December 13, 1996
STUDY ON DETASSELERS' ILLNESS INCONCLUSIVE
SPRINGFIELD, IL -- A study by the Illinois Department of Public Health was unable to determine the reason 11 children became sick last summer while working as detasselers in a Forest City (Mason County) corn field.
The Department reviewed environmental samples collected by state and federal agencies, conducted interviews with some of the children, checked medical records, and had blood and urine samples analyzed for possible chemical exposure, but no cause for the illness could be found.
The 11 detasselers, 11 to 16 years of age and employed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, became ill the morning of July 29 after entering a corn field that had been sprayed from the air two days before with a fungicide and an insecticide. About 20 minutes after starting work, the children experienced various symptoms, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, sweating, rash, and numbness and tingling of their fingertips.
The children were taken to the Pekin Hospital emergency department and five were admitted overnight for observation. Two of the children remained hospitalized for three days.
Medical records at the hospital indicated the patients may have been exposed to an "intense mucous membrane irritant," such as some type of solvent.
In order to check that possibility, blood and urine samples collected from five of the children on the day of the hospital admission were sent by the Department for analysis of various compounds to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laboratory at Oregon State University and to Pacific Toxicology Laboratories of California. Nothing, however, was detected in the samples that would explain the illnesses.
Children detasseling in an adjacent field sprayed with the same pesticides who did not become ill were questioned, but it could not be determined that they had done anything differently.
An analysis of clothing worn by the detasselers, as well as soil, surface water and corn leaf samples, found low levels of the fungicide. However, the Department determined the potential absorption risk to humans from both pesticides was below levels of concern.
An investigation by the Illinois Department of Agriculture in August of the pesticide application found the company had complied with all relevant worker protection standards and with label requirements.
of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
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