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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on the health dangers of picking tobacco plants


CURWOOD: Coming up, the fall, and rise, of eating meat in Germany. First, this health note from Diane Toomey.

TOOMEY: The dangers of smoking are well-known, but just picking tobacco can be a health hazard. Farm workers can come down with something called Green Tobacco Sickness. This acute nicotine poisoning is caused when workers absorb nicotine from tobacco plants through their skin. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness. And, despite the fact that the illness is an on-the-job hazard, workers don't get paid for time lost in the fields. A new study out of Wake Forest University in North Carolina shows that Green Tobacco Sickness is prevalent among tobacco workers. Researchers interviewed 182 farm workers over a ten-week period during harvest season. They found that one-quarter of the workers had suffered from Green Tobacco Sickness at least once during that time. Workers hold the ripe leaves under their arms as they gather the plants. But this is precisely the area of the skin which is the most absorbent. So the harvesting technique makes the possibility of nicotine poisoning likely. Researchers advise that tobacco workers should be given protective clothing or at least be able to change their shirts often, in order to cut down on the amount of nicotine absorbed. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.



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