J Health Pollut. 2021 Aug 17;11(31):210908. doi: 10.5696/2156-9614-11.31.210908. eCollection 2021 Sep.
BACKGROUND: Farming is an important occupation in Thai hill tribe communities, which are often remote, and lack other economic opportunities along with basic educational, health care, and occupational health and safety services. Additionally, these communities have a unique culture and language.
OBJECTIVES: The present study was conducted in northern Thailand to evaluate pesticide exposures and associated health impacts among hill tribe farmers, and to compare them to Thai farmers.
METHODS: Lahu hill tribe farmers in a mountain community were recruited by public health hospital staff, along with a reference group of lowland Thai farmers. Participants completed a survey on demographic factors and work practices, and blood and urine samples were collected by a trained nurse. Acetylcholinesterase activity (AChE) was quantified to assess pesticide exposure, whereas liver and kidney functions were evaluated using clinical biomarkers.
RESULTS: A large fraction (nearly 50%) of Lahu farmers were illiterate and could not speak Thai. Thai farmers worked fewer hours per week (39.4) than did Lahu farmers. Among Lahu farmers, AChE levels were significantly lower (worse) than those of Thai farmers. However, other health outcomes in these populations were similar. Formal education and language skills were not associated with pesticide exposures or health outcomes. Pesticide spraying was found to be a significant predictor of reduced AChE (OR=8.5, 95% CI 1.1-69.6).
CONCLUSIONS: Pesticide exposures are a significant occupational health hazard among Thai hill tribe farmers. Training, potentially delivered by community health volunteers, is needed to communicate safe pesticide work practices to these farmers.
PARTICIPANT CONSENT: Obtained.
ETHICS APPROVAL: The study protocol was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Mae Fah Luang University (REH-61080).
COMPETING INTERESTS: The authors declare no competing financial interests.