A secure Web site to transmit confidential medical information and a new requirement for clinical laboratories to send electronic reports of possible poisonings from some pesticides will enhance the Department of Pesticide Regulation’s (DPR) collection of information associated with pesticide exposure, Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam announced.

“California is already the nation’s leader in pesticide illness and injury surveillance,” she said. “The new reporting tool and additional source of information will significantly enhance our ongoing efforts to prevent pesticide illness.”

Warmerdam’s announcement coincides with the release of DPR’s 2008 summary of statewide illness and injury data associated with pesticide exposure. A total of 1,275 cases were investigated in 2008 - a 14 percent drop from the previous year but within the range typical for recent years. Reporting of pesticide illnesses has been mandatory since 1971. The summary is posted at: http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/whs/2008pisp.htm.

A pilot project for the secure Web site to transmit the medical information was recently launched in Monterey, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties. The intent is to refine procedures and test the effectiveness of this new way of exchanging information about illnesses and injuries associated with pesticide exposure. The goal is to use the Web site as the primary reporting system for such exposures in all 58 counties by late 2011.

DPR is proposing that clinical laboratories also use the Web site to send electronic reports of test results from possible poisonings from cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides as required by Assembly Bill 1963.

The bill was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September and takes effect Jan. 1, 2011. DPR will maintain a database of the results and share information with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on an ongoing basis.

Cholinesterase is an enzyme that helps regulate nerve impulses.

Overexposure to organophosphate and carbamate insecticides -- the two main classes of cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides -- can reduce cholinesterase levels in the blood.

For more than 30 years, DPR has required growers to provide and pay for medical supervision and blood tests of the employees who handle cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides. Although use of these products and the incidence of severe illness have been decreasing, until now DPR has not been able to evaluate if these requirements adequately protect employees because there has been no requirement for reporting test results.

The laboratory data will help DPR evaluate the effectiveness of the medical supervision program to determine if it is still necessary or needs improvement. By Dec. 31, 2015, DPR and OEHHA, in consultation with CDPH, will report to the Legislature on the effectiveness of the laboratory-based reporting system and medical supervision program relating to illness surveillance. The report will also include recommendations to extend, expand or disband the program.

“Most information about pesticide illness and injuries are currently sent by mail,” Warmerdam explained. “Electronic reporting will greatly improve the ability of DPR and counties to analyze the data. We use this information to improve protective measures for workers, the public and the environment.”

The annual summary of statewide illness and injury data is crucial to DPR’s evaluation of its safety regulation efforts. The 2008 data show:

- Of the 1,275 cases investigated, pesticide exposure was a possible contributing factor in 895, or 70 percent, of them.

- 552, or 62 percent, of the 895 pesticide-associated cases occurred while the affected individuals were at work.

- 583, or 46 percent, of the total cases investigated were associated with non-agricultural circumstances such as structural, sanitation or home garden use.

- 311, or 24 percent, of the total cases investigated were attributed to pesticides used for agricultural purposes.

Based on information available at the time of evaluation, DPR concluded that 441, or 49 percent, of the 895 pesticide-associated cases might have been avoided if pesticide users had strictly followed safety procedures on the pesticide labels and California regulations. In 244 of these cases, or 27 percent, health effects were attributed to pesticide exposures in spite of apparent compliance with all applicable label instructions and safety regulations. Further evaluation of these cases is needed so DPR can determine if additional safety requirements are appropriate.

These data come from many sources and include both occupational, such as agricultural and structural use, and home-use incidents of pesticide-related illnesses and injuries. The California Poison Control System (CPCS) remained a major source of illness identification. In 2008, 562, or 44 percent, of the cases were reported by CPCS. DPR continues to work with other state and local entities to ensure it captures the majority of significant illness and injury incidents associated with pesticide use.

If an illness results from illegal practices, state and county enforcement staff take appropriate action. Enforcement actions often are still under consideration when DPR receives investigative reports.

DPR’s Web-based California Pesticide Illness Query, or CalPIQ, has been updated with the 2008 data. Illness and injury data beginning in 1992 can be analyzed with individual, user-defined queries based on several variables, including year of incident, agricultural or non-agricultural use; county of occurrence; and pesticide by category, active ingredient or intended use. CalPIQ is available at http://apps.cdpr.ca.gov/calpiq/.

One of five departments and boards within the California Environmental Protection Agency, DPR regulates the registration, sale and use of pesticides to protect people and the environment. More information about DPR is available at www.cdpr.ca.gov.