Temporal variation of residential pesticide use and comparison of two survey platforms: A longitudinal study among households with young children in Northern California

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Background: Pesticide use patterns are essential inputs into human pesticide exposure models. Currently, data included for modeling purposes have mostly been collected in cross-sectional surveys. However, it is questionable whether responses to one-time surveys are representative of pesticide use over longer periods, which is needed for assessment of health impact. This study was designed to evaluate population-wide temporal variations and within-household variations in reported residential pesticide use patterns and to compare alternative pesticide data collection methods - web surveys versus telephone interviews. Method. A total of 481 households in Northern California provided up to 3 annual telephone interviews on residential pesticide use; 182 of these households provided up to 6 quarterly web surveys that covered the same topics for some of the same time periods. Information on frequency and areas of application were collected for outdoor and indoor sprays, indoor foggers, professional applications, and behind-the-neck treatments for pets. Population-wide temporal variation and within-household consistency were examined both within telephone surveys and within web surveys, and quantified using Generalized Estimating Equations and Mixed Effect Modeling. Reporting between the two methods, the telephone survey and the web survey, was also compared. Results: Use prevalence of outdoor sprays across the population reported in both the annual telephone surveys and the quarterly web surveys decreased over time, as did behind-the-neck treatment of pets reported in the quarterly web survey. Similarly, frequencies of use of these products decreased in the quarterly web surveys. Indoor sprays showed no statistically significant population-wide temporal variation in either survey. Intraclass correlation coefficients indicated consistent use within a household for behind-the-neck treatment on pets and outdoor sprays but great variability for the use of indoor sprays. Indoor sprays were most consistently applied in the bathroom and kitchen. Outdoor sprays were consistently more often applied by male household members, while indoor sprays were not. The two survey approaches obtained fairly similar results on the prevalence of using pesticides, but found discrepancies in use frequencies. In addition, the number of products purchased was positively correlated with application frequency for outdoor sprays (R = 0.51, p = 0.0005) but not for indoor sprays. Conclusions: In this population, repeated surveys are necessary either to obtain a reliable estimate of the average household use of pesticides or to project potential temporal changes of pesticide use. Web surveys could collect comparable data to traditional telephone surveys for some information. However, researchers need to consider the internet acceptability among the target population and balance lower participant burden against the need for sufficiently accurate time-varying measurement, to improve subject retention in longitudinal surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number65
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Residential pesticide
  • Telephone survey
  • Temporal variation
  • Use frequency
  • Web survey
  • Within-household variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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