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Bit depressed? Not feeling the best? Can’t get it up? The cause of your concern might not be what you think it is.

A recent study released from the National Centre for Farmer Health revealed the serious health implications of long-term low-level exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides (OP), particularly for crop and sheep farmers who are the main users of agrochemicals.

Anxiety, erectile disfunction, depression, Parkinson’s Disease, suicidal tendencies, higher vulnerability to psychiatric illnesses—you name it—the typical farmer could be opening themselves up to a whole lot more than long hours and tough working conditions. And you guys thought you were just tired!

As if farmers didn’t have enough to deal with, now it seems the evidence is out; with anyone using common pesticides including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides potentially at risk of chemical exposure. Children were also identified as being a high exposure risk due to many chemicals being incorrectly stored around the home and accessible in common areas such as the laundry or storerooms.

Farmers can greatly reduce the risk of an accident at home, or developing a serious illness, by following the appropriate proper protocol and implementing strict handling conditions on any property where chemicals are being used.

Exposure and common sense

There are only three ways you can absorb chemicals into the body:

  • direct skin contact (including through your clothing);
  • ingesting/eating a liquid or a food product;
  • breathing it in.

For this reason, even though it may be a hassle at times, it is essential to cover up properly when you are working with pesticides. Make sure you use common sense and always wear recommended protective clothing such as chemical-resistant gloves, overalls, goggles and appropriate P2 Face masks or a P3 respirator.

Three NSW farmers recently died when they were affected by poisonous gas in a water tank in a tragic incident that rocked their local farming community. Respirator cartridges should provide multi-level gas protection and can save your life.

Chemical spray drift

Spray drift is essentially the unintentional diffusion of pesticides and the potential negative effects of pesticide application—it includes off-target contamination as well as runoff from plants and soil. It can not only damage property and contaminate the environment but also severely impact on a person’s health. Spray drift can occur through use of boom sprayers, aerial sprayers or just generally spraying agricultural chemicals (like pesticides) on farms , gardens and crops. It can also happen when you fumigate a warehouse or use chemicals to clean out or disinfect animal houses.

It is extremely important to pay attention to a number of factors before you use/spray any agrochemical on an area:

  • Check and monitor weather conditions—ensure you are not spraying on days when it is particularly windy, hot or otherwise volatile. Key things to look for are a temperature under 28 degrees, no inversion layer, a steady wind between between 3-15 kilometres an hour blowing away from sensitive areas and a low Delta T (humidity level)
  • Chemical rotation—certain crops will build up resistance to the same chemicals. You may need to rotate different chemicals from different activity groups to ensure they still work as well
  • Buffer zones (proximity to houses/ safe zones)—it’s essential to know mandatory safe zones for all the chemicals you are using
  • Check the labels—all chemicals have instructions for best use
  • Do you even need to spray?—There are other options and alternatives to spraying which  you may want to consider including utilising permaculture techniques like Integrated Pest Management (IGM)

Safe use of chemicals

Anyone using agrochemicals should be trained on how to apply and distribute it properly, as well as knowing how to use the equipment to maximum effect. Always use a chemical decanting kit and rinse them thoroughly taking care to manage the rinse water (rinsate) properly as well. Try not to make up more than you will actually need and ensure when you are mixing up any chemical the area is well-ventilated.

Disposing of chemicals

Most manufacturers will always have instructions on how best to dispose of the chemicals with many requesting you return the containers to them. Ensure you rinse all equipment properly, again making sure you manage the rinsate appropriately. It is also a good idea to audit your chemical store on a regular basis and dispose of any chemicals that are out of date. There may even be a chemical collection day in your area (which your local council should know about) however you can always contact ChemClear for the management of any unwanted agricultural or veterinary chemicals.

What to do after you have been in contact with chemicals

It is especially important to handle removing your clothes appropriately; taking care to not to spill any poisons directly on the skin, and it’s always a good idea to change into clean clothes after you have finished. Manufacturers will have instructions on the label (or a phone number you can call) with instructions on what to do if you have inadvertently spilt it on yourself. If you are unsure you can always call your local doctor if you are really unsure.

Water supply

It is crucial to consider your own drinking water supply and any spray drift that may inadvertently be absorbed during an application. If you have a rainwater tank it’s a good idea to disconnect the collection pipe to ensure it doesn’t get contaminated. If you obtain your water from a natural fresh water supply take appropriate measures to ensure this also doesn’t get contaminated (and is also safe from other farms in the area in regards to runoff or spray drift).

Need more advice or assistance?

Contact the Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26 (24 hours, 7 days, Australia wide) in an emergency.

Men's Health: Why You REALLY Need to Handle Pesticides Properly
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Men's Health: Why You REALLY Need to Handle Pesticides Properly
Handling Pesticide problems: anxiety, erectile disfunction, psychiatric illnesses. Why farmers could be opening up to a whole lot more than long work hours.
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