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HEAL and MDRGF launch new network for health risks from pesticides exposures

HEAL (the Health and Environment Alliance) and our French NGO member, MDRGF (Movement for the Rights and Respect of Future Generations) and have launched at network for people with health problems related to pesticide exposure. The launch took place at a press conference on Thursday 18 June 2009 in Paris.

Aurèle Clémencin, who is joint pesticides campaign coordinator for MDRGF and HEAL in France, said: "We want to help people who are affected, by raising awareness of the dangers of exposure and calling for reductions in exposure and for substitution of the most harmful pesticides in current use."

The campaign by will be known as "Victimes des pesticides - votre santé, notre priorité" (Pesticide sufferers - your health, our priority).

The launch heard from a farmer with Parkinson’s Disease, a person suffering coughs and allergies caused by living next door to a frequently-sprayed apple and nectarine orchard, and from the father of a four year-old boy suffering from hyperthyroidism. Dr S Alkhallaf, a paediatric oncologist at Raymond Poincaré Hospital near Paris, reviewed the scientific evidence; and, lawyer Stéphane Cottineau described existing regulation.

François Veillerette, MDRGF President, told the meeting that his organization had been receiving telephone calls from people complaining about the effects of pesticide exposure for many years. He said that a new website had been created to give these affected people an opportunity to describe their experiences. The farmer from Alsace told the meeting that he had developed Parkinson’s Disease having been "showered in herbicides" when a pipe in the spraying machine had burst. Then 25 years old, he was treated in hospital for acute poisoning. Eight years later, at the young age of 33 years, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a condition known to be associated with pesticide exposure, and otherwise normally appearing later in life.

A recent US study on pesticide and Parkinson’s Disease shows that exposure to Maneb and/or Paraquat in the environment (within 500 meters of spraying) increases the average risk of developing Parkinson’s by 75%.

The medical expert at the launch emphasised the special vulnerability of young people and children. Child cancer paediatrician, Dr Alkhallaf cited a UK report on the risk of cancer in children as a result of their mother’s exposure to pollutants. Children born to mothers living near "hot spots" for the emission of certain chemicals have 2-4 times greater risk of developing leukaemia or other child cancer before the age of 16 years.

Dr Alkhallaf reminded participants that last year Inserm, the national health research institute in France, had produced a report on cancer and the environment that had identified the risks related to the use of pesticides in the home. It stated that mothers’ use of insecticides at home either during pregnancy or while the child was young was associated with leukaemia and, to a lesser extent, brain tumours in the child.

Obtaining justice for those affected by pesticide exposure was extremely difficult. Lawyer Stéphane Cottineau was disappointed by "the absence of any serious regulation to protect individuals from pesticide spraying." No protection zone around households exists nor are there any norms for the protection of bystanders.

In theory, farmers are forbidden from spraying when the wind is blowing faster than 19 km/hour but this requirement is difficult to monitor and carries no legal sanction. It is left to the person affected to provide proof that the law has been broken.

MDRGF would like to see protection zones around households, schools, buildings and open spaces that are close to pesticide spraying. They have asked three French ministries (health, ecology and agriculture) for three changes: to remove the most dangerous pesticides from the market, to install protection zones in the countryside to protect people exposed to intensive farming, and to ban the ‘cosmetic’ use of pesticides in towns.

>> European context

Lisette van Vliet, HEAL Policy Advisor, told the meeting that the European Union had recently introduced new pesticides legislation and a thematic strategy. One of the objectives of the EU reform is to reduce the negative impact of pesticides on health.

EU legislation requires countries to introduce national action plans over the next two years. "A possibility therefore currently exists to push for strong national action plans on pesticides, such as setting targets for 50% reductions in pesticide use," she said. Countries will have two years to transpose the new directive into national law once it has been approved by the Council, which will probably take place in September or October 2009.

The new network is believed to be the first of its kind in Europe. In the UK, Georgina Downs has been campaigning against passive exposure to pesticides for more than 10 years but no formal support network exists. The UK Pesticides Action Network in London answers telephone enquiries to those affected by pesticide exposure and offers a series of leaflets on health and pesticide exposure, known as the PEX briefings

Last updated on 10 June 2011

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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