IOM collaborates on NUI Galway pesticide exposure study


Exposure Science researchers from the School of Physics in NUI Galway have been investigating pesticide exposures among professional gardeners and amenity horticultural workers. The results from this four-year study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health have been disseminated.

The research was led by Exposure Science lecturer Dr Marie Coggins and Alison Connolly, a PhD researcher in Exposure Science, both from the School of Physics at NUI Galway. The research project was conducted in collaboration with the Health and Safety Executive, Great Britain and the IOM. The project was funded by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority of Ireland and the Colt Foundation UK.


A total of 200 urine samples and 350 wipes and gloves were collected and analysed. Study results suggest low glyphosate exposure levels among professional amenity horticultural workers, the highest measured glyphosate concentrations were equivalent to less than 1% of the *Acceptable Operator Exposure Level (AOEL) set by the European Food Safety Authority. Results also suggest that skin contamination on the worker’s hands is the most significant form of exposure accounting for almost 40% of the total exposure. However, exposure through inadvertent ingestion may also be relevant.

This four-year study highlights the importance of using personal protective equipment (PPE) when using pesticide products. If reusable personal protective equipment is used it should be thoroughly cleaned after use as levels of pesticide contamination were found on reusable worker gloves which, if reused by the worker may become a source of exposure.

About glyphosate

Glyphosate is the highest volume herbicide used globally and is extensively used in horticulture to control the growth of weeds and invasive species of plants, such as the Japanese Knotweed. Glyphosate has recently received much public attention following its ‘Group 2A – probably carcinogenic to humans’ classification from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other international agencies have concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic to humans. Despite the widespread use of glyphosate, there is limited human exposure data available for this chemical.

Key recommendations for pesticide users:

  • Wear personal protective equipment when applying pesticide products.
  • Dispose of all used personal protective equipment after the task or ensure that re-usable personal protective equipment is washed thoroughly after each work task.
  • When taking breaks during the task, be careful when donning or doffing personal protective equipment, to prevent contamination of clothes and the body.
  • Be careful not to contaminate personal items such as mobile phones and steering wheels when working with pesticides.
Dr Holger Koch, Chief Editor of the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health commended the study for being, “an important, timely scientific contribution to the current worldwide glyphosate discussion, and the first international study of its kind to look at glyphosate exposures, and exposure pathways, among a previously understudied occupational group, amenity horticulture and gardeners.”

The research has led to the development of a Guidance document on the safe use of plant protection products which is freely available on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine website.

About the Author
Dr Karen Galea Head of Workplace Exposure Science

Karen is Head of Workplace Exposure Science in our Research Division. She is actively involved in a wide variety of research projects, mainly focused on exposure assessment relating to health risks. Her workplace based research has included inhalation, dermal and biomonitoring exposure assessment in a range of industrial sectors, exposure model validation and evaluation, historical hygiene assessment etc. Her research has also extended beyond the working environment e.g. pesticide biomonitoring in residents living near agricultural land, consumer exposure to diesel and lubricating oils, use of low cost sensors by citizens and use of respiratory protection against volcanic ash.

Contact Details:

  • Section Head - Workplace Exposure Science
  • Office: +44 (0) 131 449 8034
  • Mobile: +44 (0) 7818 426 612
  • Email: [email protected]


  • PhD Environmental Medicine
  • MSc Occupational Hygiene
  • BSc (Hons) Environmental Health (First Class)

Committee and Society Memberships:

  • Member of the British Occupational Hygiene Society
  • Committee member of the UK & Ireland Exposure Science meetings
  • Member of the Institution of Environmental Sciences (MIEnvSc)
  • Member of the Institute of Science and Technology (MIScT)
  • Member of the ISO/TC 146/SC 2/WG 8 "Assessment of contamination of skin and surfaces from airborne chemicals" committees
  • Member of the British Standards Institute ‘EH/002/02 Work place atmospheres’ committee

Research Interests:

Highlighted current research interests include:

  • HBM4EU -, in particular the European human biological monitoring study on occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium.