Pesticides are used to combat damage to crops, forests, plants and parks caused by fungi, pests, and weeds. Growth regulators are used to influence the growth and development of individual plant cultures. Many of the pesticides approved for use in Norway are suspected to cause various cancers, neurological diseases, reproductive damage, and endocrine disease.

Exposure among greenhouse workers has been associated with an increased risk of respiratory diseases, decreased fertility, neurological symptoms, and skin irritation. Exposure can occur via skin or inhalation when handling pesticides, plant residues or recently treated plants. The extent to which this occurs has not previously been investigated with direct measurements in Norway.

Target groups

The purpose of the project is to gain more knowledge about exposure to the most used pesticides among greenhouse workers in Norway, how this exposure is reflected in biological samples and how it can affect microbiological diversity of the skin and nose. As a fundamental partner for the immune system, changes in the microbiome can potentially impact the protection against disease.

The target group is producers of both ornamental plants and of cucumber, tomato, lettuce, and herbs.

Research methods

Air samples, urine samples and samples from the skin and nose will be taken from workers in greenhouses during handling, preparation and spraying of pesticides, and when handling plants after pesticides have been applied. Air samples, urine samples and skin samples will be analyzed for the pesticides in question. Air samples, as well as samples from the employees’ skin and nose, will be analyzed for microbial diversity. The study is expected to provide basic knowledge about how large concentrations of pesticides employees greenhouses are exposed to through inhalation and skin exposure, and to what extent the concentrations are reflected in the urine. In addition, the project aims to create knowledge about which microorganisms greenhouse workers are exposed to through inhalation and skin, and how microbial diversity varies and is affected by the use of the pesticides.

Collaboration partners

This project has received support from the Norwegian Agricultural Directorate over the Action Plan for Sustainable Use of Pesticides and is anchored among the social partners and actors relevant to pesticides through the Norwegian Horticultural Association, the Norwegian Agricultural Advisory Board, the Norwegian Farmers’ Union, the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority and the Norwegian Agricultural Directorate.

The project can be used by employers and employees in greenhouses for adaptation of working methods and protective equipment, and by authorities in connection with risk assessments and advice on work with pesticides. The project will also form the basis for further research in this field.

Project leader: Anne Straumfors

Project staff: Erika Zardin, Hilde Notø, Anani Afanou, Raymond Olsen, Karl-Christian Nordby, Oda A.H. Foss

External partners: Sunil Mundra, University of the United Arab Emirates

Financial contributor: Norwegian Directorate of Agriculture, Action plan for sustainable use of pesticides