Air Extérieur

ANSES's work in protecting local residents when plant protection products are used

One of ANSES's main missions is to protect the public whenever plant protection products are used. The Agency estimates exposure and assesses health risks for workers and local residents as part of its work examining marketing authorisations. One of its priorities is to improve knowledge of the real impact on human and environmental health of pesticide use in agriculture. As such, it is currently involved in several major scientific studies.

Assessments of plant protection products take the exposure of local residents into account

The assessments of plant protection products carried out by ANSES as part of its work to examine marketing authorisations take the exposure of bystanders and local residents into account, according to a methodology that has been harmonised at European level by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is responsible for pesticide safety in Europe.

This considers several different exposure situations: dermal and inhalation exposure due to spray drift of the product at the time of application, exposure due to contact with contaminated areas and objects during spraying, the presence of aerosols, and most importantly the exposure of children and other vulnerable individuals in spray-contaminated areas (oral contamination by hand-to-mouth or object-to-mouth transfer).

Estimates are based on exposure models defined using measurements under actual conditions of use on different types of crops. As these models were developed with spraying equipment that is now considered to be relatively ineffective in terms of reducing drift, the exposure estimates can therefore be regarded as reflecting "worst cases". The work currently under way to update EFSA's methodology will enable new exposure data measured with the latest spraying equipment to be taken into account.

For each marketing authorisation assessment dossier, the exposure of bystanders and residents is estimated at distances of 3, 5 and 10 m for boom sprayer applications in the case of arable crops, and at a distance of 10 m for orchards and vineyards with an airblast sprayer (spraying upwards). For other application methods, a dedicated assessment methodology needs to be used.

If the estimated exposure reveals a risk to human health, marketing authorisation cannot be granted. Whenever the estimated exposure exceeds the toxicity reference value [1] at a distance of 10 m from the sprayer, the product is not authorised.

This assessment methodology enables safety distances to be defined to reduce exposure of residents, and ANSES has already started to include minimum distances to be complied with in each marketing authorisation decision.

In its opinion published on 14 June 2019, and pending amendments to all marketing authorisations in force in France, ANSES recommended establishing minimum safety distances at values at least equal to the distances considered in the assessments, and increasing them as a precautionary measure for products containing active substances with assumed or suspected carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic effects.

Assessment of plant protection products does not stop at risk assessment

ANSES has set up a scheme, the only one of its kind in Europe, to continuously monitor any possible adverse health or environmental effects of plant protection products. This phytopharmacovigilance scheme relies on cases reported by doctors, other health professionals and users, as well as on the monitoring of a set of parameters such as the presence of pesticides in water, food or air.

Any new information, in particular concerning adverse effects of a product, may lead to the marketing authorisation being re-examined at any time. ANSES has already done this for several products that have now been withdrawn from the market, including products containing chlorpyriphos-ethyl, glufosinate and metam-sodium.

The Agency remains especially vigilant with regard to the potential effects of pesticide exposure and is also funding several scientific studies as part of its phytopharmacovigilance activities, in order to obtain additional knowledge and refine its risk assessments.

As for inhalation exposure, a campaign to measure pesticide residues in the air was launched in June 2018 in partnership with INERIS and ATMO France. Around 80 substances are currently being analysed at 50 different measurement sites in metropolitan France and the overseas territories, leading to a total of around 1500 samples over the duration of the campaign. These measurements will provide new exposure data and be used to define a monitoring strategy for pesticides in ambient air. The report is scheduled for publication in 2020.

Lastly, ANSES is co-funding the GEOCAP Agri study conducted by INSERM and Santé Publique France. This study is using the national register of childhood cancers to analyse geographical and statistical associations between childhood cancers and residential proximity to agricultural activities. The Agency is also joint leader of the PESTIRIV study carried out in conjunction with Santé Publique France on pesticide contamination of people living near agricultural crops. This study also includes a component on environmental measurements of pesticides, especially in the air and dust of homes.

[1] The toxicity reference value (TRV) is the benchmark health value: below this value, according to current scientific knowledge, no adverse effects on human health are expected.