A qualitative characterization of meso-activity factors to estimate soil exposure for agricultural workers

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Johns Hopkins University
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Keeve Nachman, PhD
Johns Hopkins BSPH
Background: Agricultural workers’ exposure to soil contaminants is not well characterized. Activity pattern data are a useful exposure assessment tool to estimate extent of soil contact, though existing data do not sufficiently capture the range and magnitude of soil contact in the agricultural context. Objective: We introduce meso-activity, or specific tasks, to improve traditional activity pattern methodology. We propose a conceptual framework to organize the factors that may modify soil exposure and impact soil contact estimates within each meso-activity in agriculture. We build upon models from the US EPA to demonstrate an application of this framework to dose estimation. Methods: We conducted in-depth interviews with sixteen fruit and vegetable growers in Maryland to characterize factors that influence soil exposure in agriculture. For illustrative purposes, we demonstrate the application of the framework to translate our qualitative data into quantitative estimates of soil contact using US EPA models for ingestion and dermal exposure. Results: Growers discussed six tasks, or meso-activities, involving interaction with soil and described ten factors that may impact the frequency, duration and intensity of soil contact. We organized these factors into four categories (i.e., Environmental, Activity, Timing and Receptor; EAT-R) and developed a framework to improve agricultural exposure estimation and guide future research. Using information from the interviews, we estimated average daily doses for several agricultural exposure scenarios. We demonstrated how the integration of EAT-R qualitative factors into quantitative tools for exposure assessment produce more rigorous estimates of exposure that better capture the true variability in agricultural work. Significance: Our study demonstrates how a meso-activity-centered framework can be used to refine estimates of exposure for agricultural workers. This framework will support the improvement of indirect exposure assessment tools (e.g., surveys and questionnaires) and inform more comprehensive and appropriate direct observation approaches to derive quantitative estimations of soil exposure. Impact statement We propose a novel classification of activity pattern data that links macro and micro-activities through the quantification and characterization of meso-activities and demonstrate how the application of our qualitative framework improves soil exposure estimation for agricultural workers. These methodological advances may inform a more rigorous approach to the evaluation of pesticide and other chemical and biological exposures incurred by persons engaged in the cultivation of agricultural commodities in soil.
Peer-reviewed Journal Article
Sara Lupolt, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Jacqueline Agnew, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Gurumurthy Ramachandran, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Thomas Burke, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Ryan David Kennedy, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Keeve Nachman, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Target audience:
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.