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Exposure to atrazine and selected non-persistent pesticides among corn farmers during a growing season


The aim was to develop quantitative estimates of farmers’ pesticide exposure to atrazine and to provide an overview of background levels of selected non-persistent pesticides among corn farmers in a longitudinal molecular epidemiologic study. The study population consisted of 30 Agricultural Health Study farmers from Iowa and 10 non-farming controls. Farmers completed daily and weekly diaries from March to November in 2002 and 2003 on pesticide use and other exposure determinants. Urine samples were collected at 10 time points relative to atrazine application and other farming activities. Pesticide exposure was assessed using urinary metabolites and diaries. The analytical limit of detection (LOD) ranged between 0.1 and 0.2 μg/l for all pesticide analytes except for isazaphos (1.5 μg/l) and diazinon (0.7 μg/l). Farmers had higher geometric mean urinary atrazine mercapturate (AZM) values than controls during planting (1.1 vs <LOD μg/g creatinine; P<0.05). AZM levels among farmers were significantly related to the amount of atrazine applied (P=0.015). Interestingly, farmers had a larger proportion of samples above the LOD than controls even after exclusion of observations with an atrazine application within 7 days before urine collection (38% vs 6%, P<0.0001). A similar pattern was observed for 2,4-D and acetochlor (92% vs 47%, P<0.0001 and 45% vs 4%, P<0.0001, respectively). Urinary AZM levels in farmers were largely driven by recent application of atrazine. Therefore, the amount of atrazine applied is likely to provide valid surrogates of atrazine exposure in epidemiologic studies. Elevated background levels of non-persistent pesticides, especially 2,4-D, indicate importance in epidemiologic studies of capturing pesticide exposures that might not be directly related to the actual application.

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This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute and funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, USA. We thank Cynthia J Hines (National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety), Jane Hoppin (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), and Kent Thomas (US Environmental Protection Agency), for useful comments on an earlier version of this article.

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Correspondence to Michael C R Alavanja.

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The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policy of US Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Appendix A

Appendix A

Table A1

Table a1 Selected percentiles of urine concentrations (in μg/g creatinine) of 10 pesticides for 30 corn farmers from the Agricultural Health Study and 10 controls, 2002–2004.

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Bakke, B., De Roos, A., Barr, D. et al. Exposure to atrazine and selected non-persistent pesticides among corn farmers during a growing season. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 19, 544–554 (2009).

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  • exposure assessment
  • pesticide exposure
  • urine
  • farmers
  • prospective studies

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