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revised April 15, 2009

How Pesticides Affect Our Health

How pesticides enter your body


Pesticides can enter your body through:
• breathing
• eating or drinking (ingesting)
• your skin

You’re most likely to be exposed to pesticides through your skin. But if a pesticide is sprayed, you might breathe in the fine spray drops. You may be exposed through food and water.

You can unknowingly track pesticide residue into your home, and your children could be exposed by mouthing toys and objects that have pesticide residue or through household dust.

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Your individual risk


If you have a weak immune system, or if you’re asthmatic, elderly, or unusually sensitive to chemical exposures, you may be more sensitive to pesticides.

Other factors such as the toxicity of the specific pesticide, the concentration, the length of time you’re exposed, and how often you’re exposed also play a role in whether you’ll develop an adverse reaction. Since pesticides vary in how they affect the human body, you might react differently to different pesticides.

Calculating your risk factor


Each time you handle a pesticide, you put yourself at a certain level of risk. How much risk depends on two things: the toxicity of that pesticide and your level of exposure.

Risk = Toxicity x Exposure

Toxicity is a measure of how harmful or poisonous a pesticide is.

1) Acute toxicity is the toxic response from a single exposure to the pesticide. The symbols and words on the front panel of the pesticide label give you information about a particular pesticide’s acute toxicity.

2) Chronic toxicity is the toxic response from being exposed to small doses of a pesticide over and over again over a longer period of time.

Since the symbols on the label do NOT give information about chronic toxicity, you should always use protective clothing and equipment to help reduce your exposure.

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Acute exposure

Effects & symptoms

How your body responds to acute exposure will vary depending on the pesticide, the dose received, and your susceptibility. Being exposed to a pesticide does not automatically mean that you will suffer a negative health effect.

Common symptoms of over-exposure include:
  • burning, stinging, or itchy eyes, nose, throat and skin
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • headache

These symptoms may range from mild irritation to death. Acute pesticide poisonings may be misdiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to those caused by other illnesses.

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Pesticide poisonings: what to do

Anyone who may be exposed to pesticides should be aware of the signs and symptoms of pesticide poisoning.

Prompt action can prevent serious consequences. If you suspect a pesticide poisoning, get immediate help from your local hospital, physician, or your nearest poison control center.

You can reach the Ontario Poison Control Centre by calling
416-813-5900 (1-800-268-9017 toll free).

If you think you’ve been poisoned…

You’ll find first aid and medical treatment procedures on the product label. Read and follow these instructions until help arrives or you can be taken to the hospital.

If you think you’ve been poisoned, tell emergency staff which pesticide you were using and have the label on hand. This will help them determine how they can best help you until you reach the hospital.

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