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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

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Updated on 06/02/2013

Exposure of the general population to pesticides

Evaluation of current knowledge and recommendations

Keywords : Pesticides

In March 2008, as part of its first action plan (2006-2008), the French Observatory for Pesticide Residues commissioned a multidisciplinary expert group to provide an overview of available knowledge concerning the exposure, contamination levels and factors determiningthe exposure of the general population to pesticides. These efforts led to publication of the report “Exposure of the general population to pesticide residues in France” in October 2010.

The exposure of the general population to pesticides is characterised by low dose exposure repeated over time. According to the WHO, food is the main source of pesticide exposure. However, the general population also receives exposure from other sources, which should not be underestimated. Consequently, contamination from outdoor and indoor air, soil or indoor dust, and the use of pesticides in gardens and on domestic animals are also potential sources of exposure. The contribution of these various sources to the overall exposure however is yet to be determined. Various teams from different disciplines are currently studying these sources of exposure. The obtained data however are very heterogeneous (very diverse study contexts and objectives, specific study populations and/or geographic areas) and are insufficient for characterising the pesticide exposure of the general population.

In this context, in March 2008, as part of its first action plan (2006-2008), the French Observatory for Pesticide Residues commissioned a multidisciplinary expert group to provide an overview of available knowledge concerning the exposure, contamination levels and factors determiningthe exposure of the general population to pesticides. These efforts led to the publication of the report “Exposure of the general population to pesticide residues in France” in October 2010.

For the purpose of this study, the term "pesticides" includes plant protection substances and products, some biocidal substances and products, as well as some antiparasitics for human and veterinary use.

In the first phase, in order to characterise the uses of pesticides and to identify the active substances present in the different environments, an inventory of existing data was carried out with regard to:

  • marketing authorisations for pesticides and withdrawal of substances from the market,
  • use of these products, in agricultural/non-agricultural and domestic environments and recent changes in these markets,
  •  monitoring and testing for the presence of pesticide residues in different environments, including in biological matrices (blood, urine, adipose tissue, etc.) and in products consumed by humans.

On this basis, deficiencies and obstacles to developing reliable knowledge of pesticide exposure could be identified.

Results and recommendations

In order to improve knowledge concerning exposure of the general population to pesticides, the report “Exposure of the general population to pesticide residues in France” highlights in particular the need to promote improved access to the data required for an integrated evaluation of exposure, i.e. taking into account all sources and routes of exposure. It also defines priorities in terms of knowledge acquisition, particularly: 

  • a national survey on the domestic use of pesticides (biocides, gardening products, houseplant treatment, antiparasitic products intended for human and veterinary use), which would enable an evaluation of the contribution of domestic pesticide use to the overall exposure of the general population; 
  • increasedmonitoring of indoor air; 
  • the establishment of soil contamination mapping from persistent pesticides throughout the country;
  • continuation/implementation of methodological studies that aim to better characterise the respective contributions of the different media to the overall exposure of the population to pesticide residues; 
  • a national study that is representative of the French general population, which would provide concurrent information on the levels of environmental exposure of the population to pesticide residue, contamination levels and the determining factors that influence these levels.

Outlook

To respond to these recommendations, the ORP is planning a national survey in 2013 intended to describe the domestic use of pesticides in the general population. It will consist of identifying the nature, types, forms and amounts of pesticides used by individual consumers, and providing information relative to the frequency, the timeframe and the methods of use of these products. This survey will concern all domestic uses (biocides, gardening products, houseplant treatment and antiparasitic products intended for human and veterinary use) and will be carried out on a sample of 3000 households that are representative of the French population (mainland France and French overseas territories).

This survey will:

  • provide an inventory of pesticide substances and products used at home, as well as their conditions of use;
  • define the user and exposure profiles from the obtained inventory;
  • guide environmental surveying of indoor pesticide use;
  • contribute to the evaluation of the contribution of domestic pesticide use to the overall exposure of the general population.