For more than 10 years now, the Approved Air Quality Monitoring Associations (AASQAs) have been collecting data on pesticide concentrations in ambient air from different points in the country. Despite the great wealth of data, it remains difficult to estimate exposure to pesticides found in ambient air in farming populations, residents in agricultural areas, or the general population; in the absence of specific regulations, knowledge of the levels of pesticide contamination in ambient air remains partial and heterogeneous.
ANSES therefore received a formal request from the Ministries of Agriculture, Ecology, Health and Labour to apply its scientific expertise to defining arrangements for implementing national surveillance of pesticides in ambient air in metropolitan France and the overseas départements and regions (DROM). This request from the supervisory ministries also came in the more recent context of the Decree of 10 May 2017, establishing the National Plan for the Reduction of Atmospheric Pollutant Emissions (PREPA) for the period 2017-2021, which aims to assess and reduce the presence in air of plant protection products.
The expert appraisal was carried out by a multidisciplinary expert group, drawing in particular on feedback from the AASQAs, and led to:
- the drawing up of a list of substances to be monitored as a priority in ambient air;
- the issuing of recommendations on sampling strategy and on arrangements for sampling and analysis.
The term "pesticide", as used in the expert appraisal, covers a large number of chemicals used in the composition of plant protection products, and in certain biocides, veterinary drugs and antiparasitics for human use. In addition, some substances may no longer be used, but be present in the environment due to their biopersistence.
Following completion of the expert appraisal, ANSES reiterated the relevance and importance of monitoring pesticides in ambient air. This surveillance should ultimately make it possible to assess the chronic exposure of the general population and the associated health risks. In the future, these data could be used to assess the contribution of exposure via ambient air to total pesticide exposure, with a view to conducting an assessment of the health risks for all media and routes of exposure that have been assessed elsewhere.
These data will enable the authorities to inform the population and take suitable measures to reduce exposure if necessary. They will also be used in the framework of ANSES's phytopharmacovigilance scheme, whose aim is to monitor the adverse effects of plant protection products available on the market.
The Agency’s recommendations
The Agency stresses the need to define a harmonised protocol for measuring pesticides in ambient air that can be applied to metropolitan France and the overseas départements and regions.
Nearly 90 priority substances have been identified for inclusion, according to their potential presence in air and hazard potential. (link to a list of these substances)
The protocol for an exploratory campaign will be defined by the Central Laboratory for Air Quality Monitoring (LCSQA), in conjunction with several AASQAs, on the basis of metrological tests it is currently conducting and the Agency's recommendations. ANSES will help fund this campaign through its phytopharmacovigilance scheme, in the framework of a partnership with the LCSQA and the French Federation of Approved Air Quality Monitoring Associations (Fédération ATMO).
When the exploratory campaign has been completed, ANSES recommends obtaining feedback on the criteria of feasibility and relevance of the proposed method concerning the choice of priority compounds, the exposure situations to be considered, and the defined criteria for classification and selection of sites. This feedback will help define the national surveillance strategy to be implemented later.
In addition to this national surveillance of pesticides in air, the Agency also recommends implementing specific campaigns enabling, in particular, assessment of the exposure of populations living in the vicinity of sources of pesticide emissions: residents in agricultural areas, railway stations and airports, industrial zones, silos, near areas where vector control is being implemented, etc.
The Agency's recommendations will also be used in the framework of the study it is conducting with the French Public Health Agency on the exposure of residents in agricultural areas, for which environmental measurements will be combined with contamination measurements in human biological media (urine, hair, etc.).
The list of substances to be monitored should be supplemented later in view of the risk to ecosystems, and taken into consideration to provide better insights on human exposure to pesticides in indoor environments.
It should be recalled that in 2010, the Agencypublished a report by the French Observatory for Pesticide Residues, whose recommendations were mainly aimed at promoting national surveillance of air contamination by pesticides in order to improve knowledge of population exposure to pesticide residues in air through the implementation of measurement campaigns. It also conducted an expert appraisal on exposure of farm workers to pesticides, which was published in July 2016.