A GIS-based method for household recruitment in a prospective pesticide exposure study
Recent advances in GIS technology and remote sensing have provided new opportunities to collect ecologic data on agricultural pesticide exposure. Many pesticide studies have used historical or records-based data on crops and their associated pesticide applications to estimate exposure by measuring residential proximity to agricultural fields. Very few of these studies collected environmental and biological samples from study participants. One of the reasons for this is the cost of identifying participants who reside near study fields and analyzing samples obtained from them. In this paper, we present a cost-effective, GIS-based method for crop field selection and household recruitment in a prospective pesticide exposure study in a remote location. For the most part, our multi-phased approach was carried out in a research facility, but involved two brief episodes of fieldwork for ground truthing purposes. This method was developed for a larger study designed to examine the validity of indirect pesticide exposure estimates by comparing measured exposures in household dust, water and urine with records-based estimates that use crop location, residential proximity and pesticide application data. The study focused on the pesticide atrazine, a broadleaf herbicide used in corn production and one of the most widely-used pesticides in the U.S.
We successfully used a combination of remotely-sensed data, GIS-based methods and fieldwork to select study fields and recruit participants in Illinois, a state with high corn production and heavy atrazine use. Our several-step process consisted of the identification of potential study fields and residential areas using aerial photography; verification of crop patterns and land use via site visits; development of a GIS-based algorithm to define recruitment areas around crop fields; acquisition of geocoded household-level data within each recruitment area from a commercial vendor; and confirmation of final participant household locations via ground truthing. The use of these procedures resulted in a sufficient sample of participants from 14 recruitment areas in seven Illinois counties.
One of the challenges in pesticide research is the identification and recruitment of study participants, which is time consuming and costly, especially when the study site is in a remote location. We have demonstrated how GIS-based processes can be used to recruit participants, increase efficiency and enhance accuracy. The method that we used ultimately made it possible to collect biological samples from a specific demographic group within strictly defined exposure areas, with little advance knowledge of the location or population.