Pesticides: the effectiveness of the protective equipment for farmers in question

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 Every day, find the Green thread, the environment meeting of Release. Every Friday, an ecological question through the prism of research.

Are farmers’ protective equipment effective? This is the question posed by a group of researchers from different disciplines. They offer a critical reading of the scientific literature on the subject. “The effectiveness of personal protective equipment (PPE) in real conditions is overestimated. In addition, many factors (cost, discomfort, availability) can hinder their use ”, notes their article published in the newspaper Safety Science.

Alain Garrigou, university professor of ergonomics, is the main author of the study. He has been interested in this subject for many years. “This is a subject that is tackled by different separate disciplines. This is the first time that we have offered a multidisciplinary point of view “, he explains. Together with his colleagues, they took over all the data on the effectiveness of PPE both in the laboratory and in the field. And there is a big gap between theory and practice. “We should not be satisfied with the efficiency results from the laboratory. It is on the ground, in the complexity of the situations, that we assess the quality of protection “, He explains.

He himself conducts studies of this type. It’s all about putting 11 patches on the farmers’ bodies and letting them work as they are used to. We then measure what is deposited on the patch according to the protection worn and the activity performed. “Cleaning the machines with a karcher is a time of high risk of contamination because it resuspends the pesticide particles.”

Image and comfort issues

In the field, many factors come into play that are not taken into account in the laboratory. The risk of exposure depends on the activity (product preparation, treatment, cleaning, etc.) but also on the pesticide used: “There is no generic combination that protects against all pesticides.” Sometimes it is the negative image of PPE sent back to the neighbors that prevents the use of the combination. Next come comfort problems (suits that are too hot or ill-suited to movement) or the social reality of the operation. For example, studies of migrant workers in the United States have shown that their employers simply do not provide them with the right equipment.

In France, there are nearly 800,000 non-permanent workers on farms, according to Catherine Laurent, co-author of the study. In this category, we find migrants, posted workers, people paid by service providers … “Non-permanent workers rarely perform pesticide application tasks. They are often dedicated to harvesting or pruning, for example. They therefore do not have direct exposure to pesticides but indirect exposure, through residues in the leaves, on fruit, in dust. However, these indirect exposures to pesticides are very little taken into account, even if research tends to prove that we can reach comparable levels of exposure directly or indirectly “explains the researcher.

Parkinson’s and prostate cancer

The problem pointed out by the study is likely to call into question the authorizations to market the most dangerous molecules. Indeed, the risk for the operator is sometimes acceptable only with the wearing of PPE. But if the said PPE is not effective in the field, should we continue to authorize these substances? In 2016, ANSES already noted that “The wearing of PPE is not always practiced by the applicators during the working phases for which it nevertheless constitutes one of the conditions of the authorization to market the products used”.

As a reminder, in 2013, Inserm affirmed, in its collective expertise on pesticides and their effects on health: “There seems to be a positive association between occupational exposure to pesticides and certain pathologies in adults: Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer and certain hematopoietic cancers (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myelomas). The idea is absolutely not to advise to remove PPE, on the contrary. It is a question of using them more adequately at the individual level and collectively taking better account of the reality on the ground in the regulations.

Olivier Monod

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