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Ithaca College

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


In recent history, agricultural expansion to satisfy ever growing populations has introduced new chemical agents that pose a great threat to human, animal, and environmental health. With growing prevalence every decade, agricultural pesticides are the cause for thousands of acute and chronic illnesses across the world. In Chile, more specifically in the region of Arica and Parinacota in the Azapa Valley, the recent, more thorough, documentation of pesticide intoxications has lead the issue to be recognized as a prominent public health concern of the agricultural region. This study focuses on the identification and analysis of the most prominent social factors that could lead to the unsafe use of pesticides i.e. the research question inquires: What are the major social determinants that could cause the unsafe use of pesticides? The objective of the study was to identify and understand how different social factors could influence the way in which workers handled and applied pesticides and whether or not they received appropriate training and/or literature informing of proper precautionary measures. A survey and interviews were given to twenty-one male subjects, all of which were from the agricultural workforce of the Azapa Valley and have handled and/or applied pesticides. The results suggested that subjects’ level of education could indicate the frequency of use protective equipment and those of lower education levels were more likely to be intoxicated by pesticides. It was also found that despite explicit occupational health laws in Chile requiring employers to provide their work force with appropriate educational material and personal protection equipment, these laws were often circumvented or simply not followed. Most of the subjects expressed that they felt they did not receive enough educative information about how to safely use the agricultural chemicals. The data also revealed that seventy-five percent of the subjects were of foreign nationality and the region’s high rate of immigration from bordering countries Bolivia and Peru has produced a variety of complications that leaves the immigrant working population especially vulnerable. Without proper legal documentation, the average legal rights of the worker are essentially negated, allowing for lax compliance with the legislation and norms surrounding the prevention of pesticide intoxication of agricultural workers. Despite governmental efforts to educate and survey the region’s agricultural workforce, pesticide intoxication remains a serious public health issue, affecting hundreds of workers in Chile every year.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Inequality and Stratification | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Politics and Social Change | Sustainability


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