30th July 2003
For the attention of the Pesticide Safety Directorate
I must say that I am not surprised that this issue has forced the need for this consultation process, given the increasing controversy in respect to the safety and adverse health effects of pesticides.
The Green Code states on Page 72 that:
“206. If an enquirer suggests that they may have been affected by a pesticide used on the farm or holding, it is most important to give them or their advisers full and accurate information without delay. That means the full name of the product, including prefixes or suffixes, and any other information which may be needed for the treatment of people or animals, or for a decision to be taken on whether crops will be safe to eat.
207. So that information is readily accessible, records should be kept on the farm or holding, and not kept by suppliers, contractors or advisers.”
But because this is an advisory step and not a legal requirement then very few farmers will release the information. Even when there is a legal requirement to release that information there is evidence that some employers refuse to comply.
“COSHH requires employers to provide their employees with suitable information, instruction and training about: the nature of the substances they work with or are exposed to and the risks created by exposure to those substances; the precautions they should take.
Employers should give them sufficient information and instructions on: control measures, their purpose and how to use them; how to use personal protective equipment and clothing provided;”
Furthermore there is a requirement under COSHH to give such information to workers who are exposed
“Give sufficient details to all staff and non-employees, such as contractors, who are on the premises so that they know the risks they run and the precautions they must take. They must also know how to react in an emergency at every stage of handling pesticides”
But there is no enforcement of this obligation and as a result it is almost impossible even for an exposed worker to obtain the information required for proper diagnosis and treatment. This obstruction is often due to insurance industry influence over employers and the instructions given to avoid admitting liability.
As seen above the authorities readily recognise and admit that it is important for individuals and their medical advisers to be able to access the full information about the chemicals to which they are exposed and that there should be no delay in providing those details.
If there was a legal requirement to provide that information there would be none of the delays currently experienced when attempting to extract details from the user. Reducing the delay in obtaining accurate information about the chemicals involved will reduce the risk of misdiagnosis and long-term ill health.
Additionally there is a requirement under COSHH for the user to fully know and understand the adverse effects of all the ingredients in the pesticides used and yet full disclosure is not permitted due to “commercial confidentiality” – a term used to prevent exposed people from obtaining information about patented formulations. Any commercial competitors can easily obtain such information.
All parties are then disadvantaged but the injured party, if any, is at greater disadvantage because their right to proper and timely diagnosis and treatment is denied them. This increases the cost to the State since timely diagnosis and treatment can prevent more serious and costly long-term health damage, which may result from the untreated condition. Furthermore in many cases the full disclosure of ingredients and their expected adverse effects could actually assist the medical profession in dismissing any fears that pesticides might be the cause of the reported adverse health effects. Such disclosure can only be good for the industry and for all involved and there would be more rapid realisation of any adverse health effects caused by pesticides, which would therefore improve post-marketing surveillance.
In the current situation the failure to disclose details to enquirers is creating problems and endangering the health of workers, rural residents, and bystanders alike, but it is also adding to the considerable costs to the health service in wasted investigations and procedures. For example my former GP publicly admitted that he was treating me for the wrong condition for two years. We were fooled by the similarity of the poisoning symptoms to those of natural disease. It was not for another 7 years that I was able to discover the truth about the illegal mixture of pesticides to which I had been exposed, and then only by chance.
This despite repeated requests to the regulatory authorities that they ensured compliance with the law and obtained full disclosure as required in the employer / worker relationship under the terms of the COSHH regulations. Interestingly that same employer asked me to provide him with a full record of cropping for the farm he had purchased so that he could claim subsidies. I was able to comply, and to supply details of pesticide use on that farm when his legal representatives asked me to provide it, but he was under no obligation to inform me of the chemicals which had been involved in the exposure which is now officially recognised as having disabled me for life. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.
My home is surrounded by farmland and because of my health status it is vital that I avoid all further contact with toxic chemicals. Despite this I am never notified of spraying operations, not even those within 25 yards of our back door. Records show that this pesticide use worsens my condition.
Nor is the danger restricted to the time of spraying since volatile chemicals lift from the crop for weeks after application and they too can cause adverse health effects.
Spray drift is known to have killed greenhouse crops days after application and some 5 miles from the spraying operation. This was official information given to pesticide applicators by government in the 1980s, and this and the danger to health from pesticide drift was confirmed by reports from the USA, but the risk to the health of those living in the immediate spraying area is much higher. Some say that these effects are caused because we know that sprays have been used but this is completely untrue.
The health effects occur first and then we discover what the cause was by a process of elimination.
On many occasions I have suffered effects only to discover that spraying operations were taking place up-wind, and out of sight and hearing, several miles away. Recommendations in respect to wind speed are frequently ignored in this area, as it seems are other laws regarding pesticide use.
I have copies of incomplete Pesticide Incidents Appraisal Panel reports dating from 1986 to 1994 and many confirmed cases of poisoning resulted from a single low-dose exposure to spray drift.
Claims that the chemicals are rapidly inactivated and that therefore these risks are exaggerated are entirely unfounded. A three-way mixture used outside my home left me unable to go outside for two weeks, or to stay indoors, unless the windows and doors were firmly closed and I made good use of my carbon-filtered air purifier. The only information about that mixture which was made known to me was that it contained Lindane. A year later my wife was diagnosed with a highly malignant breast cancer, which was said to be of environmental origin. Lindane has been linked to breast cancer causation.
Since her chemotherapy, a form of controlled poisoning, my wife is also sensitive to chemicals, though not to the degree that the uncontrolled poisoning has left me sensitised. We both require notification.
My answers to the specific questions posed are as follows:-
1. That I support the general proposal that users of pesticides be required to notify occupants of adjacent property prior to use of pesticides. I believe that there should be a register of people who have been diagnosed, or even suspected, as having been poisoned by pesticides or solvents, and that all those on the register should have legally enforced notification in order to protect their health.
2. As to in what form the notices should take place, for example what notices should be produced and where they should be placed, this would be dependent on the circumstances. For example, notices are of no use to people who are housebound but are essential for unsuspecting walkers or horse riders.
I suggest that those people with susceptibility to chemicals, those with conditions such as cancer, asthma, CFS/ME, Multiple Sclerosis, or Motor Neuron Disease, and those who live in the immediate vicinity, should be notified by telephone, text, or written message, as agreed between the parties to be most convenient. (The time and cost involved in warning is far less than those for medical investigation.)
Such notification would ideally provide details of the chemicals to be used and it would assist the notified individuals both to avoid adverse health effects and to avoid unnecessary actions should the chemicals, which are actually used, be known not to adversely affect them.
Friends tell me that in other countries it is already a legal requirement to post warnings of spraying operations in the treated area. It seems sensible for the UK to comply with this form of warning, as it would also assist visitors from those countries. Notices in gateways, at the beginnings of footpaths or of roads which border fields to be sprayed, would at least warn walkers or drivers of the potential to be over-sprayed as they innocently use the thoroughfares.
3. That the period before use when notification should be given should be at least 24 hours before the operations begin. I recall how the changes in weather could change spraying plans quite rapidly and I really do not think that a period greater than 24 hours would be workable, unless the planned use was given earlier and a shorter notification period of actual use is agreed between the parties. On the rare occasions that the sprayer operators themselves have warned me of impending spraying operations we have found that we can prepare the protection procedures within a quarter of an hour but for some people who are able to move away from their homes a longer notification period might be needed.
All this assumes that the pesticide user has the right to disrupt the lives of those who will be adversely affected, or to risk their health by using the chemicals near their homes, schools or workplaces.
4. How access should be provided to those wishing to see records of spray activities would really depend on who was asking for access. Employers and spray operators should be able to be totally open about spray use if they are doing nothing wrong and I can see no reason for secrecy.
Employees and those who live in the immediate area should have unrestricted access to the full list of chemicals used and to the users’ records of wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, etc.
If there are any ensuing health problems then access should also be available to any COSHH assessments prepared before the pesticide spraying operation took place.
Those records should be stored away from any potential chemical contamination as residues of chemicals could cause additional harm to any sufferer who had to handle them during any examination.
It would therefore be better for the pesticide user to provide accurate copies to anyone with a legitimate enquiry, but this is especially important, indeed absolutely vital, to those whose doctors have requested the information for diagnostic purposes. Denying access, as is currently permitted, is morally wrong.
There must however be a legal requirement to produce complete and accurate records since we have had cases locally where the users of pesticides provided false records in order to prevent proper diagnosis of pesticide induced illness in their efforts to avoid any potential prosecution.
In short I believe that enacting a law demanding full disclosure of pesticide use to those affected by spraying operations is long overdue and I urge all involved to incorporate this in the legislation as soon as possible. Having said that we would not need the legislation if the chemicals had been properly tested and proven to do no harm before they were marketed - and if the current regulations were properly enforced.
Dated 30/7/2003 Updated 29/10/2005
Go to top
Return to the submission to the Royal Commission ;
Return to Front Page;
Return to the submission to the Royal Commission ;
Return to Front Page;