Publication Details

J. Beard, V. Westley-Wise & G. Sullivan, "Exposure to pesticides in ambient air", Australian Journal of Public Health 19 4 (1995) 357-362.


Ambient air was monitored for pesticides at four sites in Coffs Harbour, a coastal town (population about 50 000) surrounded by banana plantations. Air was sampled continuously for five consecutive months during the peak agricultural spraying period using vacuum pumps set to sample one litre per minute through ORBO‐42 adsorption tubes. Six pesticides were detected: three organochlorines and three organophosphates. The most commonly detected pesticide (14 per cent of all samples) was chlor‐pyrifos (maximum detected level 208.0 ng/m3, mean 3.6 ng/m3). Heptachlor was detected in 7.1 per cent of all samples (maximum detected level 133 ng/m3, mean 2.7 ng/m3). Other pesticides were only rarely detected. The only pesticide applied by air in the district (propiconazole) was not detected. If international health guidelines are used as a yardstick, these levels of exposure appear unlikely to present an appreciable health risk. Chlorpyrifos detection was associated with low wind speed (P = 0.012) and high temperature (P = 0.015), and detection at one site was associated with detection at another (P < 0.001). Chlorpyrifos detection was also associated with domestic applications within the town area as reported by pesticide applicators (P = 0.045). Peak agricultural use of chlorpyrifos did not coincide with peak detection periods. None of the detected organochlorines is registered for agricultural use, although at the time, heptachlor was permitted for use as a domestic termiticide. Even in a semirural town with nearby widespread use of agricultural chemicals, community exposures to pesticides in ambient air may largely relate to their nonagricultural use.