Chemicals on farms
A range of pesticides are used in the agricultural sector to protect plants, animals and agricultural products from harmful pests and diseases.
Many of these pesticides contain hazardous chemicals that can have short term and long term health effects if the risks aren't managed safely.
It's important you know the chemicals that you are working with so you can take precautions, and know what to do in potentially dangerous situations.
The international Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified Benzene as a carcinogenic for humans. Benzene is contained in diesel engine exhaust fumes and has been identified as an emerging health risk for those in the agricultural industry.
- Diesel exhaust, which agricultural workers may be exposed to can cause damage to the lungs if inhaled. Short term exposure to fuels containing Benzene can cause nausea and loss of co-ordination. Long term exposure has the potential to increase the risk of an early death from heart and lung disease or Leaukaemia.
A good way to keep healthy is to use safer engines and cleaner fuels (e.g. low emission technology, emission control devices such as particle filters, ultra low sulphur diesel, compressed natural gas or electricity).
Chlordimeform is a pesticide that was very popular in the north-western region of NSW between 1978 and 1986. It was used on cotton crops and on others before 1976.
After it was established that it could cause severe health issues, it was banned in Australia. It was known as CGS500 or CGS800.
The side effects of exposure can take years, even decades to develop.
Those most at risk of its harmful effects include flaggers, mixers, ground rig operators, drivers, loaders and pilots who sprayed the chemical from the air.
Most common side effects include bladder cancer (which if detected early can be treated). Other health conditions that occur as a result of chlordimeform are abdominal and back pain, hot sensation all over and anorexia.
Organophosphate pesticides (OPs) can be very harmful, so if you can, you should substitute them. A high percentage of the agricultural industry is already doing so.
If not properly used OPs can be easily absorbed through the skin, mucous membranes and eyes.
Short term exposure symptoms may include headaches, excessive sweating, slurred speech and blurred vision.
Long term exposure can cause cancer, diabetes, fertility issues of paralysis.
Prevention is always better than dealing with the effects of hazardous chemical exposure and you can take steps to minimise any potential health risks:
- talk to others about product substitution
- keep informed about banned products
- read safety and product labels on the chemicals you are working with and be sure you store them safely
- keep areas where emissions are present isolated
- ensure there is adequate ventilation
- minimise the length of time exposed to emissions
- regularly maintain all vehicles and plant
- make lifestyle changes - smoking can escalate symptoms.
For more information watch the below safety video for tips on avoiding exposure.
If you believe you have been exposed to harmful chemicals ensure you talk to your doctor about:
- your past and present occupation
- your lifestyle (e.g. smoking)
- any changes in your health
- medical tests.
- Safe Work Australia has advice that will help you create a hazardous chemicals register.
- Business Queensland lists the types of hazardous chemicals you may encounter in the workplace.
- for farmers: National Farmers Federation (NFF)
- for commercial fish operations owners: Commonwealth Fisheries Association (CFA)
- for forest products growers and support: Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA)
- for agriculture and fisheries workers: Australian Workers’ Union (AWU)
- for forestry workers: The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).