Health risks of pest control and disinfection workers after the COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea

Yun Hee Choi, Da An Huh, Lita Kim, Sang ji Lee, Kyong Whan Moon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The exposure patterns of pest control and disinfection workers have changed after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, but the health risks of chemical exposure have not been assessed. We identified these workers' chemical exposure patterns and risks before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. We used data conducted between 2018 (pre-pandemic) and 2021 (post-pandemic) from three-year cross-sectional surveys on pest control and disinfection workers. Inhalation and dermal exposure concentrations were estimated using equations based on a biocidal product risk assessment model from the Korean National Institute of Environmental Research. The non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic risks of chemicals were calculated using the United States Environmental Protection Agency risk assessment model. We found that the annual work frequency (50th percentile) of foggers using disinfectants increased the most among all the work types, from 140 uses/year to 176 uses/year after the COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, all chemicals' non-carcinogenic and carcinogenic risks increased regardless of exposure routes. In the worst scenario (95th percentile), the margin of exposure for citric acid, benzethonium chloride, benzyl-C12-16-alkyldimethyl chlorides, and sodium chlorite of inhalation exposure, and isopropyl alcohol and benzyl-C12-16-alkyldimethyl chlorides of dermal exposure were acceptable (>100) before the COVID-19 outbreak but became unacceptable (<100) after the COVID-19 outbreak. Carcinogenic risks of dichlorvos from inhalation and dermal exposure were above acceptable levels (>10−6) before and after the COVID-19 outbreak but comparatively high after the COVID-19 outbreak. Additionally, significantly more workers experienced health symptoms after the COVID-19 outbreak (p<0.05), with the most common being muscle lethargy (31%), skin/face stinging (28.7%), and breath shortness/neck pain (24.1%).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-363
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Environmental Sciences (China)
Publication statusPublished - 2024 May

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
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  • Biocide
  • Disinfection
  • Health risk assessment
  • Occupational exposure
  • Pest control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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