Proposed system for classifying pesticide-related poisoning

New system would provide a valuable evidence base on pesticide exposure

Pesticides include a diverse range of chemicals, which are used to eliminate or control pests such as weeds and insects. They are widely used in agriculture, the home, hospitals and food-processing facilities. Misuse of pesticides however, such as food contamination or using excessive doses, can potentially harm people and the environment. Within the EU, a comprehensive set of legislation regulates the marketing and use of pesticides to prevent these negative effects.

Directive 2009/128/EC for example establishes a framework for the sustainable use of pesticides. It currently covers plant protection products (types of pesticide that protect plants and crops). Pesticides have the potential to harm people, animals and the environment and are also covered by separate regulations.

EU pesticide-poisoning data could be harmonised between Member States, Science for Environment Policy News Alert, 08 July.

Member States are required to collect statistics on the placing on the market and use of plant protection products4 . Regulations also require Member States to collect information and report on suspected cases of poisoning from pesticides. However, there are no common collection and reporting standards, as plant protection products and biocidal products are presently separately categorised within EU legislation.

Harmonising pesticide-poisoning data collection, categorisation and reporting could allow comparable data from different Member States to be pooled in one database. The information in such a database would better support, at both national and European levels, the monitoring and safety evaluation of pesticides and the detection of emerging problems from pesticides. It could also provide evidence for measures to prevent poisoning.

Development of a new categorization system for pesticides exposure to support harmonized reporting between EU Member States, ScienceDirect, Volume 91, Pages 332–340, May 2016.

Pesticide application by ugacommunications.

This study, which was co-funded by the EU5 , reports on a proposed system for classifying pesticide-related poisoning. The researchers categorised the pesticides using the classification of plant-protection products in Regulation (EC) No 1185/2009 and biocidal products listed in Regulation (EC) 1451/20076.

The new system unifies the categorisation of all pesticides, according to: 

  • their main category of use (plant protection or biocide);
  • secondary category of use (for example, insecticides — that target insects — and acaricides — that target ticks and mites);
  • chemical class (for example, pyrethrins/pyrethroids — pyrethrins are derived from chrysanthemum flowers, pyrethroids are synthetic versions of pyrethrins);
  • active substances (for example, bifenthrin — a pyrethoid).

The researchers tested the system on data collected on human exposure to pesticides by six Member States. Three national centres (Germany, Italy, the UK) were able to translate the data from their national coding system to the proposed system, adding any exposures to active substances not included in the list by classifying them according to the proposed categorisation system.

Difficulties experienced by the other three centres (Czech Republic, France, Lithuania), such as being unable to distinguish between the main categories of pesticide products, highlighted the need to support data collection and recording, including the development of guidance documents. Providing common tools to help Member States systematically report hazardous exposures to pesticides would improve data comparability and could inform surveillance and early warning systems in Europe.

The researchers say that, if adopted in the EU, the system would not require changes to current regulations. However, policy support would be necessary to implement standardised data recording and categorisation.

Overall, the system – which would provide a valuable evidence base on pesticide exposure – could help policymakers to better understand the burden of chemical related disease (as required by the REACH regulation) and help ensure that future policies are robust.

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