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Protective Clothing Can't Stop Chemicals Completely

Malathion is a cancer-causing chemical that is sold throughout the country. It can be buoght at garden shops and online. It is used both by homeowners and professional gardeners. It was applied aerially against pests such as the Medfly in Los Angeles in the 1980s. The citizens were told malathion was relatively safe to be sprayed over their homes. People and dogs got sick, though. And now we know some people probably got cancer. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have established worker exposure levels for malathion but even when used around homes or buildings it is linked with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma among children.

Malathion is used in California occupationally by gardeners and farmers. Its use in California was documented by LA Weekly and includes human studies from workers’ exposures. An example of occupational use in California is when malathion is applied to roses, tomatoes or other plants by hand held lance sprayers or to perimeters of office and other business buildings. The potential dermal exposure of applicators to this insecticide has been measured. In the urine samples the specific metabolite of malathion, malathion monocarboxylic acid (MMA), and the creatinine content were determined. The potential dermal exposure results show that during the application of malathion, applicators’ lower limbs accounted, on average, for 48%, while the upper limbs accounted for 19% of the potential dermal exposure. Moreover, hands and chest and back and head regions accounted for 30 and 3%, respectively.[i]  

Protective clothing is modestly protective. A study monitored the dermal and inhalation operator exposure from hand-held lance applications of malathion on greenhouse tomatoes at low and high spraying pressures. Despite protective gear, such as hand exposure, cotton gloves were used in two trials and rubber gloves in another three. The total volumes of spray solution contaminating the body indicated absorption. Both potential dermal operator exposure (excluding hands) and potential inhalation exposure were increased by a factor of approximately 7 when the application pressure was increased from 3 to 18 bar with a tractor-assisted hand lance. [ii]  


[i] Tuomainen A, Kangas JA, Meuling WJ, Glass RC. Monitoring of pesticide applicators for potential dermal exposure to malathion and biomarkers in urine. Toxicol Lett. 2002 Aug 5;134(1-3):125-32.

[ii] Machera K, Goumenou M, Kapetanakis E, Kalamarakis A, Glass CR. Determination of potential dermal and inhalation operator exposure to malathion in greenhouses with the whole body dosimetry method. Ann Occup Hyg. 2003 Jan;47(1):61-70.