A new study carried out in the Italian province of Bolzano-South Tyrol reveals that despite measures taken by local authorities to reduce pesticide pollution, synthetic pesticides that can harm human health and the environment are still detected in children’s playgrounds and schoolyards in the nearby region [1, 2].
The study, a collaboration among experts from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, PAN Germany and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna (BOKU), was carried out in one of the main agricultural regions for apples and wine production in Europe. The researchers looked at official data of 306 grass samples collected from 88 non-agricultural public sites such as children’s playgrounds, market places and schoolyards between 2014 and 2020.
The conclusions show that existing local measures to reduce pesticide drift in the region are not effective enough to prevent pesticide exposure in public spaces. These measures include warning signs and restrictions in time of day and distance when and where pesticides can be sprayed .
Main findings include:
- Despite a slight reduction in pesticide residues during the study period, residues of at least one pesticide could still be detected in 73% of the sampled sites and multiple residues could be found in 27% of the sites in 2020.
- Fluazinam, a fungicide which is suspected to cause damage to the unborn child and which has been linked to cancer in animal studies, was detected in 74% of the contaminated sites. Other harmful pesticides like the fungicide captan (60%) and the insecticide phosmet (49%) were also frequently detected.
- The percentage of residues with potential to cause harm to human reproduction increased significantly, from 21% in 2014 to 88% in 2020. The percentage of residues with potential to cause harm to certain organs also increased from 0% in 2014 to 21% in 2020 .
- The percentage of substances with the potential to affect the endocrine system (89%) or cause cancer (45%) in humans remained constant over the study period.
- If these concentrations of pesticide residues were found in locally grown food, they would be several magnitudes above those that are considered safe for consumption in the EU.
- The percentage of pesticide residues detected with acute toxicity to honeybees remained high throughout the study period.
- These findings build on a previous study showing pesticides residues were detected at distances ranging from five to 600 meters from the agricultural sites where they were originally used .
- ‘Pesticide drift mitigation measures appear to reduce contamination of non-agricultural areas, but hazards to humans and the environment remain’, Science of the Total Environment volume 854 (2022) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969722059137
- The new study builds on previous research on the distances at which pesticide residues were found in the South Tyrol region in northern Italy: ‘Pesticide contamination and associated risk factors at public playgrounds near intensively managed apple and wine orchards’, Environmental Science Europe Volume 31 (2019) https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-019-0206-0
- In the case of Bolzano-South Tyrol, the government started in 2014 to put additional measures in place to protect residents from exposure to pesticides. These include a 30-metre buffer zone when pesticides with hazardous properties for human health and the environment are used in proximity to areas visited by children and the general public. Only in case of additional mitigation measures such as the use of barriers (for example, trees or hedges), the distance can be reduced to five or ten-metre buffer zones.
- Tables from article can be accessed via 1-s2.0-S0048969722059137-ga1_lrg.jpg (2213×674) (els-cdn.com)
- See for example: https://www.env-health.org/heals-response-to-the-public-consultation-on-the-eu-pesticide-reduction-law-proposal/ and https://www.pan-europe.info/sites/pan-europe.info/files/public/resources/briefings/PAN%20Europe%20SUR%20PP_16092022.pdf