Open Access Open Badges Research

Spatial modeling of personalized exposure dynamics: the case of pesticide use in small-scale agricultural production landscapes of the developing world

Stefan Leyk12*, Claudia R Binder2 and John R Nuckols34

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Geography, University of Colorado, 260 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309, USA

2 Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland

3 Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, 1681 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA

4 Division of International Epidemiology and Population Studies, Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

International Journal of Health Geographics 2009, 8:17  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-8-17

Published: 30 March 2009



Pesticide poisoning is a global health issue with the largest impacts in the developing countries where residential and small-scale agricultural areas are often integrated and pesticides sprayed manually. To reduce health risks from pesticide exposure approaches for personalized exposure assessment (PEA) are needed. We present a conceptual framework to develop a spatial individual-based model (IBM) prototype for assessing potential exposure of farm-workers conducting small-scale agricultural production, which accounts for a considerable portion of global food crop production. Our approach accounts for dynamics in the contaminant distributions in the environment, as well as patterns of movement and activities performed on an individual level under different safety scenarios. We demonstrate a first prototype using data from a study area in a rural part of Colombia, South America.


Different safety scenarios of PEA were run by including weighting schemes for activities performed under different safety conditions. We examined the sensitivity of individual exposure estimates to varying patterns of pesticide application and varying individual patterns of movement. This resulted in a considerable variation in estimates of magnitude, frequency and duration of exposure over the model runs for each individual as well as between individuals. These findings indicate the influence of patterns of pesticide application, individual spatial patterns of movement as well as safety conditions on personalized exposure in the agricultural production landscape that is the focus of our research.


This approach represents a conceptual framework for developing individual based models to carry out PEA in small-scale agricultural settings in the developing world based on individual patterns of movement, safety conditions, and dynamic contaminant distributions.

The results of our analysis indicate our prototype model is sufficiently sensitive to differentiate and quantify the influence of individual patterns of movement and decision-based pesticide management activities on potential exposure. This approach represents a framework for further understanding the contribution of agricultural pesticide use to exposure in the small-scale agricultural production landscape of many developing countries, and could be useful to evaluate public health intervention strategies to reduce risks to farm-workers and their families. Further research is needed to fully develop an operational version of the model.