Adverse health experiences, environmental attitudes, and pesticide usage behavior of farm operators

Erik Lichtenberg, Rae Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water pollution from agricultural pesticides continues to be a public concern. Given that the use of such pesticides on the farm is largely governed by voluntary behavior, it is important to understand what drives farmer behavior. Health belief models in public health and social psychology argue that persons who have adverse health experiences are likely to undertake preventive behavior. An analogous hypothesis set was tested here: farmers who believe they have had adverse health experiences from pesticides are likely to have heightened concerns about pesticides and are more likely to take greater precautions in dealing with pesticides. This work is based on an original survey of a population of 2700 corn and soybean growers in Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania using the U.S. Department of Agriculture data base. It was designed as a mail survey with telephone follow-up, and resulted in a 60 percent response rate. Farm operators report experiencing adverse health problems they believe are associated with pesticides that is equivalent to an incidence rate that is higher than the reported incidence of occupational pesticide poisonings, but similar to the reported incidence of all pesticide poisonings. Farmers who report experiencing such problems have more heightened concerns about water pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, and illness and injury from mixing, loading, and applying pesticides than farmers who have not experienced such problems. Farmers who report experiencing such problems also are more likely to report using alternative pest management practices than farmers who do not report having such problems. This implies that farmers who have had such experiences do care about the effects of application and do engage in alternative means of pest management, which at least involve the reduction in pesticide use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-294
Number of pages12
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1999


  • Agricultural pollution
  • Health effects
  • Pest management
  • Pesticides
  • Risk perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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