Determining the risks in a population that uses pesticides is a complex task. The purpose of this study was to outline the socio-economic and cultural context and some of the health vulnerabilities related to fruit production in the São Francisco River valley in Brazil. Semi-structured questionnaires were applied to random samples of farm workers to obtain data on social, economic and cultural characteristics, as well as the morbidity related to pesticide poisoning. These farm workers have low level of schooling, and this is a major vulnerability for understanding the labels of pesticides and their toxicological and environmental implications. This study found indiscriminate use of pesticides in unsafe and unhealthy conditions of work that compromise the health of exposed workers. Symptoms suggestive of pesticide poisoning are closely related to exposure to organophosphates, carbamates and pyrethroid, which match pesticides used in fruit farming. Seven percent of the population reported poisoning events at some point in their lives. Technical assistance related to the management of pesticides is poor, and actions toward the improvement of health, environment and work conditions were not seen. These vulnerabilities corroborate those related to a technological model that aims merely at productivity and good financial performance.
Pesticides; Vulnerability; Risk situations; Occupational health; Environmental health; Semi-arid region