University team at the forefront of ensuring pesticide safety

The University's Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU), have been working to support the European Food Safety Authority in assessing the safety of pesticides for residents and bystanders.

Under European legislation, there are now clear specifications for the data that manufacturers need to provide before they can legally place a plant protection product (pesticide) on the market in the European Union. This includes a requirement for providing sufficient data for an estimate to be made of both the acute and chronic exposure of groups not traditionally considered, in particular local residents and bystanders. These groups of people may be exposed to potentially harmful chemicals without being actively involved in farming, either as a result of living, working or go to school (for example) near to fields in which pesticides may be used (residents), or due to spending time in or directly adjacent to a treated fields for shorter periods (e.g. walkers). Farm workers are considered separately. In 2014, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a guideline document to help risk assessors, researchers and the pesticide industry itself to calculate the risks posed to people in the proximity of chemical spraying, together with a tool for making such calculations. However, it has been recognised that the dataset available for supporting such assessments is currently somewhat limited, due to the fact that it contains many gaps and is often based on a relatively small number of studies, some of which were conducted 30 years or more ago. Indeed there is a lack of clarity as to precisely what data is out there. As a result, the University of Hertfordshire's Agriculture and Environment Research Unit (AERU) was contracted by EFSA to carry out a systematic review and evaluation of published data in terms of its quality and suitability for upgrading the data currently used for making the sort of assessments now required by law.

The data collated by AERU from academic research publications, industry reports and grey literature, includes daily air concentrations, drift values and data relating to dislodgeable foliar residues, and is intended to be suitable for the assessment of exposure for both residents and bystanders, and in some cases other groups, including those working in the agricultural industry. To make the process more manageable, AERU have structured the data into a database and developed bespoke software to facilitate in-house database population, data retrieval, interrogation and finally export into EFSA's own databases and tools. This ensures that the considerable volumes of complex data involved can be efficiently controlled and updated, and that the data sent to EFSA is fully referenced and traceable. It also means that any future advances in the science can be easily incorporated into the way in which the regulatory framework is implemented. It therefore, provides regulators with a valuable resource for managing the risks posed by agricultural chemical use, and ensuring that the high standards we've come to expect from European farming over the past few decades are maintained or improved in the future, and that those living in the local area are protected from any potentially harmful consequences. EFSA are expected to publish the final report and data sets through their website shortly.

University of Hertfordshire
University of Hertfordshire, 2020.