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Your Environment. Your Health.

Wake Forest University School of Medicine

Community-Based Research to Protect Farmworker Health

NIEHS Grant: R01ES8739

Thomas A. Arcury

Project Description:

Farmworkers are essential to American agriculture. Unfortunately, these workers are often exposed to pesticides in the course of their work. Pesticide exposure can cause significant health problems for farmworkers and their families: chronic, low-level pesticide exposure contributes to cancer, birth defects, neurological deficits, and reproduction and fertility problems.

The health risks agricultural workers face from pesticides are compounded by the fact that the majority of these workers are immigrants, primarily from Mexico, and that many are undocumented. The working and living conditions of this large, low-income, medically underserved community--combined with language barriers, social isolation, and discrimination--makes them vulnerable to a variety of environmental health problems.

Through this NIEHS grant, researchers established partnerships with Latino farmworker communities to reduce pesticide exposure among workers and their families. The researchers teamed up with farmworkers to develop effective research approaches, study how workers and their families are exposed to pesticides at work and at home, and create tools to help workers and their families prevent pesticide exposure.



  • Development of a program manual to help community-based organizations and health workers educate farmworkers about pesticide safety. The manual, which was produced in an early stage of this long-term project, describes culturally-appropriate approaches organizations can use to communicate effectively and build trust with farmworker communities.
  • Development of diverse community education materials and programs that provide pesticide safety information to farmworkers. The emphasis is on information that farmworkers can use to protect themselves and their families. The materials include a pesticide safety video that meets the training requirements of the US-EPA Worker Protection Standard, radio spots, flipcharts, comic books, and brochures.
  • Development of a lay health advisor program that trains women from the farmworker community to teach other women in farmworker families about how to reduce exposure to agricultural and residential pesticides in the home. The program has been implemented in a demonstration project with clinics, health departments, and Migrant Head Start programs in thirteen counties; the demonstration project reached more than 600 farmworker families.
  • Documentation of how farmworkers and their families are exposed to pesticides at work and at home. This ongoing effort aims to fill research gaps to enhance understanding of the routes of pesticide exposure among Latino farmworkers and the effects of those exposures. The researchers work with community members to collect data about behaviors that could lead to pesticide exposure and use urine samples to assess actual exposure levels.
  • Dissemination of the findings of laboratory results about pesticides metabolites in biological samples directly to individuals who participated in the research. The project developed culturally, linguistically, and educationally appropriate procedures to share information about pesticide exposure directly to individual farmworkers. Dissemination included a discussion of potential health problems that could result from pesticide exposure and education on how to reduce pesticide exposure.
  • Assessment of the contribution of farmworkers' living conditions to pesticide exposure among workers and their families. The project studied the living conditions of farmworkers to evaluate the routes of pesticide exposure in and around the home. Researchers found that Latino farmworkers commonly live in overcrowded homes that lack equipment such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Although workers and their families attempt to reduce exposure by frequent cleaning, these living conditions likely exacerbate the problem of pesticide exposure. The project identified a need to improve farmworkers' living conditions and communicate ways to reduce pesticide exposure in the home.
  • The project team obtained additional NIEHS funding to build on this work with the Latino farmworker communities due to the groundwork they laid in this project.


This initiative empowers farmworker communities to reduce their exposure to harmful pesticides at work and in the home.


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