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Publication of the report on occupational exposures to pesticides: improving knowledge and reducing exposures

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In France, more than one million professionals in the agricultural sector are potentially exposed to pesticides. The Anses has set up a collective expertise in 2011 to identify, assess and characterize the pesticide exposures of people working in agriculture. In the notice it publishes this July 25, 2016, the ANSES recommends the reduction of exposures by reducing the use of pesticides, as well as various prevention measures. In addition, the Agency recommends improving knowledge on exposures under real use conditions, in a context where available data are often lacking today.
 
En France, people working in agriculture and potentially exposed to pesticides constitute a large population. In 2010, more than one million people were regularly employed in agriculture, to which must be added several hundred thousand non-permanent workers, as well as several tens of thousands of trainees. Beyond this, these exposures may also concern the families of the professionals concerned, as well as people living in areas where pesticides are used.
In addition to the impact on the environment, reducing the use of pesticides in agriculture is of particular importance because of health issues, especially occupational health.
Many epidemiological studies show an association between pesticide exposures and certain chronic diseases. Inserm's collective expertise, published in 2013, has highlighted excess risk for various pathologies, in particular certain cancers (haematological malignancies, prostate cancer, brain tumours, skin cancers, etc.), certain neurological diseases (Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cognitive disorders, etc.) and certain reproductive and developmental disorders, linked to exposure to different pesticides or classes of pesticides, with presumption levels ranging from low to high depending on the case.
In this context, the ANSES has set up a collective expertise in 2011 to identify, assess and characterize the pesticide exposures of people working in agriculture, in order to propose actions for reduction and prevention. Pesticides are defined as plant protection products, biocides and certain veterinary medicine products (particularly pesticides).

Findings

The Agency's findings confirm the lack of data on pesticide exposures for people working in agriculture. Moreover, the centralization, accessibility and use of all data appear to be insufficient to date. Indeed, the national plans, the information available in the literature, as well as Inserm's collective expertise on the health effects of pesticides, unanimously testify to the lack of data on pesticide exposure of people working in agriculture in France.
Risk prevention policies are largely focused on a few material determinants of exposure related to the individual behaviour of people at work: hygiene measures, wearing of personal protective equipment. According to the general principles of occupational health prevention, these measures should only be used as a last resort after the substitution and implementation of collective prevention measures, for example relating to the organisation of work.
In addition, the resources devoted to independent prevention advice are insufficient, the availability of alternatives to reduce the use of pesticides and the possibility of receiving adequate advice to limit exposures face difficulties. Occupational health concerns related to pesticide exposure of people working in agriculture are addressed in a very heterogeneous and sometimes reduced way in the initial training for people working in agriculture. Training and advice on the use of pesticides therefore do not provide a sufficient level of awareness.
It also appears necessary to continue the work and actions undertaken to harmonise and develop the risk and exposure assessment in the procedure for placing pesticides on the market.
Finally, improving the readability of the applicable regulations would increase their effectiveness and the involvement of the various stakeholders.

The Agency's recommendations

Faced with these observations, Anses issues recommendations addressed to all stakeholders concerned by the prevention of risks for people working in agriculture and exposed to pesticides.
First of all, the Agency recalls the explicit objective of the Labour Code, which is to avoid risks, in particular by eliminating the dangers exposing workers. In this context, reducing the use of pesticides is an objective in itself, aimed at reducing the exposure of people working in agriculture to these substances.
In particular, the Agency recommends that :
- To continue work at European level for the harmonisation and regular development of a priori exposure and risk assessment methods within the framework of marketing authorisation procedures for substances whose investigation may be subject to different regulations, depending on their uses.
- To continue work on knowledge of the effectiveness of protective equipment, which must be compatible with the activity of persons working in agriculture.
- To strengthen, in an independent framework, the provision of advice and training for pesticide users, in particular on the dangers, risks and safety of use. Certain exposure situations concerning sensitive or vulnerable populations, re-entry exposure or ultramarine uses, for example, require special efforts.
- To improve knowledge of pesticide exposures for people working in agriculture :
- Strengthening the description of actual exposures in order to consolidate risk assessments or epidemiological studies, but also to assess the effectiveness of recommended prevention measures.
- Strengthening work on knowledge of exposures to pesticide mixtures
- By improving the accessibility, pooling, enhancement and capitalisation of information on pesticides, in particular information on the exposure of people working in agriculture.
 
The publication of these results, initially planned for last June, had been postponed due to the late receipt by the Agency of a note stating a minority position from two experts from the working group that conducted the expert assessment. This situation, which was unprecedented and not provided for in the collective expertise procedures of the Anses, led to the matter being referred to the Committee on Ethics and Prevention of Conflicts of Interest on how to take this note into account. The Ethics Committee gave its opinion and issued recommendations, all of which were taken into account by the Agency, enabling the results of the assessment to be published today.
 
(Source: ANSES - July 2016)
 
 

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