Protecting local residents when plant protection products are applied

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 of pesticides on human and environmental health. As such, it  promotes and has been personally involved in several major scientific studies.


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

The scientific assessment of marketing authorisations for plant protection products carried out by ANSES takes the exposure of local residents and bystanders near application areas into account. This is done according to a methodology that has been harmonised at European level by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is responsible for food health and safety in Europe.

Assessment 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 in contaminated areas and with contaminated 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, developed with spraying equipment that is now considered to be relatively ineffective in terms of reducing drift, tend to produce higher exposures, they 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 that the safety thresholds set to protect human health have been exceeded, 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. For each marketing authorisation request for a plant protection product filed since 1 January 2016, ANSES has included minimum treatment distances that must be complied with.

Pending amendments to all marketing authorisations in force in France, ANSES recommended in its opinion published on 14 June 2019, 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.

On 20 December 2019, ANSES published a supplementary opinion on the different ways to reduce exposure caused by spray drift when applying plant protection products.  Experimental data has shown that many variables can influence spray drift. In risk assessments conducted for product authorisation, a 50% reduction in spray drift providing reduced exposure can be applied. While other means, such as hedges, can help to reduce the exposure of bystanders and local residents, available data are currently insufficient for their integration into risk assessment.

The Agency therefore recommends promoting methods that limit drift, such as anti-drift nozzles that serve to reduce environmental exposure. ANSES also recommends conducting additional studies which aim to provide better documentation of exposure by incorporating various parameters that influence drift, such as: the type of spraying equipment used, the use of anti-drift nozzles, spray volume, spraying speed during application, and wind speed.


Assessment of plant protection products does not stop at risk assessment

The phytopharmacovigilance scheme set up by ANSES in 2016is the only one of its kind in Europe, and aims to organise the monitoring of any possible adverse health or environmental effects of plant protection products. This 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 a marketing authorisation for a pesticide product being re-examined at any time. Thanks to this data collection, numerous products have already  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 being analysed at 50 different measurement sites in metropolitan France and the overseas territories, leading to a total of around 1500 samples collected 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. An initial 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 paediatric 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.