The GEOCAP-Agri scientific study, which has just been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, aimed to examine the potential links between paediatric cancers and the surface area of vineyards located near children’s homes. It was carried out by the CRESS research laboratory (Inserm/Paris Cité University), in collaboration with Santé publique France, all throughout metropolitan France.
ANSES financed the study as part of its phytopharmacovigilance scheme, whose aim is to monitor the adverse health and environmental effects of plant protection products. The study was undertaken in response to a series of cases of paediatric cancers suspected of being linked to exposure to plant protection products in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, following a request from the association Alerte des Médecins sur Les Pesticides (AMLP).
Specific studies to make up for the lack of data
Every year, the phytopharmacovigilance scheme mobilises a budget of around €1.4 million to fund specific studies and generate new knowledge, for example when suspected effects are brought to light. These are studies carried out with plant protection products in actual conditions of use: epidemiological studies, studies on concentration levels in the population, measurements in environmental media, and surveys of practices.
Analysis of the incidence of certain paediatric cancers according to the presence of wine-growing activities in the vicinity of homes
For GEOCAP-Agri, Inserm’s researchers used data from the National Register of Childhood Cancers (RNCE) for the 2006-2013 period. They calculated the surface area of vineyards and distances to the wine-growing plots located closest to the homes of children under 15 suffering from leukaemia in metropolitan France. They then compared this result with the same data (vineyard surface area, distance) for children of the same age who were not sick.
The study’s results did not show any clustering of cancer cases in metropolitan France. The study found that the presence of vineyards within 1 km of the home address was no more common for children with leukaemia than for healthy control subjects.
On the other hand, the statistical analysis carried out by the researchers showed a moderate increase in the risk of lymphoblastic leukaemia when the density of vineyards within a 1 km radius of the home address increased. The average increase in risk was 5 to 10% for a 10% increase in the vineyard surface area.
For reasons of timing and data availability, since the plant protection products concerned were used more than 10 years ago, this statistical result cannot be cross-referenced with uses of products or exposure in children.
Enhancing knowledge of risks to local residents
As part of the study, maps were produced to identify and quantify the surface area of vineyards in the vicinity of homes. A new study, called GEOCAP-Pest, will be launched by Inserm at the end of 2023. It will compare these data with the plant protection substances used on each type of crop, for the main types of childhood cancer. The aim will be to verify any correlations between the risk of cancer in children and their exposure to the products used in farming activities carried out close to their homes. The researchers will also work to identify groups of products, chemical classes, or even active substances responsible for an increased risk.
To understand the effects of using plant protection products on the health of local residents, and to be able to implement management measures, it is necessary to estimate the exposure of people living near treated crops. This is one of the objectives of the PestiRiv study, carried out by ANSES and Santé publique France.
Capitalising on field data on uses of products
Although new knowledge emerged from GEOCAP-Agri, the study protocol also highlighted the difficulty of determining the causes of adverse effects attributable to plant protection products. One of the reasons identified by ANSES is the lack of databases on the use of these products, by plot, crop, and year. This limits the ability to characterise the exposure of local residents to products and therefore to identify levers for action where necessary. Under the current French regulations, data on uses of products must be recorded and stored by agricultural users, but only for a limited period of time. ANSES therefore considers that it would be useful to everyone, including users of these products, to set up digital databases to be able to mobilise these data for future studies, particularly to analyse reported effects.