Exposure of farm workers to pesticides: ANSES publishes a literature review report and launches a call for contributions

Different epidemiological studies conducted on population groups in the agricultural sector highlight a significant link between exposure to certain pesticides and certain pathologies. ANSES therefore issued an internal request in 2011 in order to identify, assess and characterise the exposure of agricultural workers to pesticides, and to propose reduction initiatives. Today the Agency is publishing a literature review report which emphasises the lack of data regarding farm worker exposure to pesticides in France, and is also launching an additional call for contributions.

Different epidemiological studies conducted in Europe and in other regions of the world on population groups in the agricultural sector have highlighted evidence of a clear link between exposure to certain pesticides and certain pathologies. From the outset, ANSES has been interested in the issue of exposure to pesticides by farm workers, and it issued a formal internal request to propose initiatives for reducing this exposure. 

To reach this objective, consistent with the specific initiatives set down in the national Environmental health plan (2009-2013), Occupational health plan (2010-2014) and Ecophyto plan (2018), the Agency has organised its work into four main lines of action:

  • describe the farm worker population groups potentially exposed to pesticides in accordance with the various production systems and sectors;
  • identify the professional situations which cause exposure to pesticides;
  • collect and analyse the available knowledge on exposure levels for these situations;
  • place the exposure data in context with the health data.

The final results are expected in early 2015.

As the first step in this procedure, the report published today identifies the data available in the scientific literature on agricultural worker exposure to pesticides in France.

The complexity of the issue requires the mobilisation of highly diverse disciplines which provide distinct yet complementary insight. However, it is rare for expert appraisals to bring together disciplines as different as toxicology, epidemiology, exposure science, ergonomics, the human and social sciences and economics.

A method for systematic review of the scientific literature was therefore developed by the experts and the scientific publications were grouped into four main areas: metrology, epidemiology, ergonomy and the human and social sciences, including economics.

Few data available on situations in France

Of all the publications identified, only 69 pertain strictly speaking to the area of expertise with regard to the selection criteria established for the method used, in other words that provide relevant information on exposure to pesticides by agricultural workers in France.

Like the parliamentary work recently conducted, the information available in the literature and the recent expert appraisal by INSERM on the effects of pesticides on health, this literature review shows that few data on agricultural worker exposure to pesticides are available. However, the review was conducted mainly using studies published in peer-reviewed journals. It may therefore be found to be incomplete, since it is possible that unpublished data or difficult to access data published in grey literature may exist.

It is within this context that ANSES has launched its call for additional contributions from all those who may have data which could contribute to a better understanding of exposure to pesticides in the farming sector (European agencies, associations, scientists, industry players and private individuals).

This call for contributions will remain open through 31 March 2014.

In parallel, ANSES assesses the effectiveness of personal protective clothing

A report published in 2010 by the Agency on the protection capacities of type 3 and 4 protective suits with regard to the permeation of chemical substances brought up the issue of the effectiveness of protective clothing available for farm workers who apply plant protection products. 

The gear tested was shown to be poorly suited to the activities of farm workers - the majority of the workers who apply these products - who for this reason tend to avoid wearing it.  

ANSES therefore issued an internal request in 2011 on the effectiveness of the protective clothing worn by workers who apply plant protection products. 

This study, whose results will be issued soon, provides the following:

  • a description of the equipment available on the market, through a survey of distributors of the equipment and of those found on the Internet;

  • a description of the farming practices and the protective equipment actually worn by farm workers in the field;

  • identification of the personal protective equipment, work clothing and protective work gear which provide workers who apply plant protection products with a high level of protection.