Pesticide Residues in Cotton and Polyester Garments Worn While Applying Pesticides

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USDA Fresh From the Field Newsletter | 2/28/2018 

Understanding safe pesticide use is critical in the protection of pesticide handlers, not just during the mixing, loading, and application of chemicals, but also to any residues in their clothing after application. In the United States, EPA relies on basic work wear and cotton or cotton/polyester coveralls to protect a handler’s skin to pesticide exposure. Of 1,868 pesticide labels analyzed in 2012, approximately 85 percent required a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, and 15 percent required coveralls.

Cooperative Extension Pesticide Education Programs provide training and certification for pesticide applicators. The importance of safe and judicious use of pesticides in protecting people and the environment is an integral part of the training. Pesticide safety educators who are actively engaged in NC-170 projects provide the link between research and extension. NC-170 conducted laundering studies in the 80’s and early 90’s. Since then, research has been limited. During that same time, there have been significant changes in the composition of detergents (phosphate-based detergents are no longer used), washing machines, and wash conditions. Limited information is available on whether the residue levels remaining in the garment after washing are of concern, and recommended washing procedures for reusable garments need to be updated.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) is collaborating with institutions in France and Brazil to conduct laboratory studies on decontamination/laundering that are of mutual interest. UMES and the Pesticide Safety Education Program will conduct wear studies to determine the residue levels in garments worn by handlers during routine pesticide applications and the potential of the residue being transferred as a result of rubbing and perspiration. The potential impact of these studies is the development of updated laundering information for pesticide safety education programs.