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When Work Makes You Sick

A Farmworker’s Experience in the Field

Tracie M. Addy
Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship
Lafayette College
Catherine E. LePrevost
Department of Applied Ecology
North Carolina State University
Courtney L. McGinnis
Department of Biological Sciences
Quinnipiac University


This case study was inspired by a real-life scenario, and follows the story of Roberto, a migrant farmworker whose health is impacted by the usage of pesticides on a farm.  With the help of a health care provider, Roberto becomes aware of the effects of pesticides on his well-being. Students utilize a database and draw conclusions from data in order to answer the case questions.  The case concludes with an activity that uses the "intimate debate" technique in which students use scientific data as evidence to argue whether or not the pesticide under discussion should be banned from usage.  This case was originally developed for undergraduate anatomy and physiology or toxicology courses. Students are expected to have some background knowledge in nerve structure and function as well as the mechanics of neural transmission before starting the case.


  • Distinguish between acute and chronic toxicity.
  • Hypothesize whether a farmworker experienced acute or chronic toxicity.
  • Hypothesize the most likely route of entry of an organophosphate pesticide.
  • Describe the impact of mevinphos on acetylcholinesterase activity.
  • Describe the impact of acetylcholinesterase activity on acetylcholine levels.
  • Use a database to assess the numbers of pesticide-related illnesses in a given location for a specified time period.
  • Describe the physiological importance of monitoring serum cholinesterase levels over an extended period of time for a mevinphos toxicity case.
  • Propose a potential mechanism for an antidote to mevinphos poisoning.
  • Make an argument for the reregistration or the continued cancellation of mevinphos using reliable resources.


pesticides; toxicity; mevinphos; neural transmission; neurons; cholinesterase; acetylcholinesterase; organophosphate; migrant;

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type Methods

Intimate Debate, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Biology (General) Ecology Environmental Science Physiology Medicine (General) Public Health Toxicology

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

Below is an archived copy of a file used in the case that is no longer available at its original location: Mevinphos: Risk Characterization Document, Medical Toxicology and Worker Health and Safety Branches, Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Environmental Protection Agency; June 30, 1994.

Answer Key

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