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Daily News Blog

07
Jun

Study Documents Playgrounds Contaminated with Pesticides from Neighboring Chemical-Intensive Ag Land

(Beyond Pesticides, June 7, 2019) Fruit orchards and vineyards endure some of the most intensive chemical management in all of agriculture. What has not been investigated — until now — is how pesticide drift from such agricultural sites may be affecting nearby public spaces. A recent, first-of-its-kind study out of northern Italy tested 71 public playgrounds near to apple orchards and vineyards in four valleys of the North Tyrol, and finds that 45% are contaminated with a single pesticide, and 24% by more than one. Study authors note that the playground contamination will likely grow worse over the course of the growing season. This would likely amplify the impacts of such chemical trespass on nearby public spaces, never mind the varieties of harm to the sites themselves and the food produced on them. Organic agriculture, of course, remedies all these concerns.

The study randomly chose 71 public playgrounds in the four South Tyrolean regions, and analyzed grass samples for potential contamination by 315 different pesticides. Because pesticides applied to agricultural fields, orchards, and vineyards are easily volatized, carried aloft by wind, and/or washed by rain off of the target site, the study also evaluated the impacts of those (and other) factors on the degree of pesticide contamination at playgrounds.

Published in Environmental Sciences Europe in early May, the investigation, which was conducted at the start of the growing season, discovered that 92% of the dozen pesticides detected are endocrine disrupting (ED) compounds. EDs mimic the actions of endogenous hormones, and are linked to a variety of human health anomalies, including reproductive dysfunction and neurodevelopmental distortion, as well as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and childhood and adult cancers. The economic health costs associated with the use of endocrine disrupting chemicals were recently identified as $340 billion annually.

The compounds found across the four study sites were the pesticides phosmet, imidacloprid, chlorpyrifos-methyl, methoxyfenozide, and cypermethrin; fungicides fluazinam, dodine, difenoconazole, penconazole, tetraconazole, and penthiopyrad; and the herbicide oxadiazon. Among those, only dodine has no association with endocrine function. Cypermethrin, oxadiazon and tetraconazole are confirmed endocrine disruptors; chlorpyrifos-methyl, fluazinam, penthiopyrad, and methoxyfenozide are suspected endocrine disruptors; and difenoconazole, imidacloprid, penconazole, and phosmet are endocrine-active substances, or potential endocrine disruptors.

The authors identify, as a limitation of the study, the fact that it analyzed only active ingredients, and did not consider impacts of metabolites and adjuvants, “although these have also been classified as highly toxic.” They add, “Not much is known about effects by exposure to multiple substances. It is known, however, that the exposure to an increasing number of EDs in the environment is associated with an increasing incidence of hormone-dependent cancers like breast, prostate and thyroid and a decreasing sperm quality in the European and U.S. population.”

This investigation was undertaken because researchers recognized that children’s ED exposures are of especial concern, given that — if they happen during critical developmental windows — they increase the risk of adverse health effects, as compared with adult outcomes. Children play on grass and soil at playgrounds, and may have additional exposure risk through inhalation. Too, public spaces such as playgrounds are frequented by more-vulnerable people, such as children and pregnant women, and exposure times at these sites may be protracted.

Peter Clausing, Dr. sc. agr.,co-author and toxicologist of Pesticide Action Network Germany, comments, “I can imagine that people reading our study will respond that it is not relevant if grass samples are contaminated with pesticides because children do not eat grass. However, the discovery that 92% [of] pesticides found are considered to be endocrine-active substances should worry us. These substances can alter early development, which is an especially sensitive phase for children.” First author Caroline Linhart points to additional utility of their research: “Of course a prediction model always features a range of uncertainty, but the model could considerably contribute to a better pesticide application model, as well as to decrease pesticide drift.”

The published research additionally notes that, “For children, the risk for cancer is even associated with parental exposure to occupational or non-occupational pesticide. Evaluations and measurements of potential hazards for children are essential to conduct health risk assessments of pesticides. For that it is crucial to consider the often neglected, low-dose and diffuse pesticide exposure via spray drift. While this inconspicuous exposure might not yield great amounts of pesticides, the cumulated effect of multiple pesticides might pose risks for human health.”

The study examined: playground distance from agricultural sites, the number of nearby agricultural fields, rainfall, wind direction and speed, and solar irradiance (level of sunlight exposure). Study analyses demonstrated that closer proximity to agricultural sites, rainfall, and strong winds all correlated with higher pesticide concentrations. The authors posit that to reach a “zero pesticide contamination level,” the distance between playgrounds and agricultural sites ought to be at least 100 meters, although they also acknowledged that under strong wind conditions, pesticides may drift 300 meters away and potentially farther.

Koen Hertoge, study leader of the Pesticide Action Network Europe, concludes that current efforts to mitigate pesticide drift are insufficient, and says that comprehensive pesticide monitoring systems should be in place in public spaces nearby to agricultural sites where intensive pesticide use happens. He notes, “These climatic aspects are usually ignored when assessing the environmental impact of pesticides. . . . The EU Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides . . . is up for revision soon (by 2019, but it could be postponed depending on Member States‘ implementation of National Action Plans). We call on this revision for pesticides to finally be banned, rather than ’seriously limited,‘ in public areas.”

As Beyond Pesticides has maintained, society needs to do far better in protecting people from pesticides by reducing and, ultimately, eliminating their use, and transitioning to organic means. It has written about the threats related to aerial spraying and pesticide volatilization and drift, in particular. Beyond Pesticides covers and advocates for alternate approaches — optimally, organic ones — to the use of pesticides for agriculture and other land management. As a recent Daily News Blog noted, organic agriculture is on the rise as people increasingly recognize the serious risks of our chemically intensive conventional approaches to food production. Learn more through the Daily News Blog and the Beyond Pesticides journal, Pesticides and You.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.pan-europe.info/press-releases/2019/05/children%E2%80%99s-playgrounds-contaminated-pesticides-apple-and-wine-orchards and https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-019-0206-0

 

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