Submission to the Consultation on the establishment of “Buffer Zones” around Residential Dwellings.

29th September 2003

For the attention of the Pesticide Safety Directorate

In the “Background” and “Options” as set out in the Consultation Document there are some very strange and unscientific comments, which cannot be supported by facts.
The document states that “the scientific view is that pesticides controls are robust and sufficient to protect nearby residents,” but that is a gross simplification. Many scientists around the world are extremely concerned and little real work has been done in any attempt to quantify the risks to those living near areas that are regularly sprayed, either through single use of pesticides, or presented by mixtures and repeated use.
Only those who wish to hide the dangers believe that there are none.
It is suggested that an option would be to “maintain the status quo by continuing to rely on the existing statutory and non-statutory controls.” But it is because those existing controls are not working that we need this consultation – and a tightening of the regulations.
The document suggests that “views are invited on the desirability and practicality of this proposal, plus any comments on the size of buffer zone that should be set. This option acknowledges that land will be lost to cultivation.” How can it be true that simply introducing buffer zones will remove land from agriculture since there are many means of productive farming which do not require the use of pesticides? In any event much publicity has been given by farmers themselves of the difficulties faced when trying to grow harvestable crops near housing estates – and I have had some experience of just such difficulties myself in the past.
If there was no such thing as “set aside” the argument might have some merit but since thousands of acres are taken out of production every year as a matter of policy the implied “loss” of production is not based on fact.

The basic premise is therefore misleading at the outset but worse is the supposition that the risks to residents are known and quantifiable and that this exercise has not been instigated by any implied health risk.
There are clear risks and the true dangers of the pesticides are being hidden in attempts to protect those who have failed in their duty to protect human health.

I suggest that those responsible for this consultation consider carefully the following points.

1. Do the reported exposures caused by spray and vapour drifts truly pose no real risk to health?
2. Does the user of pesticides have the right to allow pesticides to drift on to neighbouring properties?
3. Can the drift of pesticides be restricted without the use of buffer zones?
4. Will buffer zones really protect those who live near the areas, which are subjected to pesticide use?
5. Can we trust the science employed by those who would deny any risk to health?
6. Will the enforcement authorities ensure compliance with any buffer zones that are established?

I suggest that the answer to all those questions will be a resounding “No” for the reasons given below. The Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering at Kansas State University after a study which lasted from July 1, 1999 - December 31, 2000 reported that “The misapplication of crop protectant products is a major concern in the application industry. One form of misapplication is spray drift. Unfortunately, when applying crop protectants there is always a chance some will escape from the target area. Drift is of concern because it removes the chemical from the intended target making it less effective and the chemical is deposited where it is not needed and often not wanted.
The second concern is generally the most critical because the pesticide becomes an environmental pollutant in the off-target area. Off-target deposits can injure susceptible vegetation, damage wildlife, injure people, and contaminate air and water supplies.
Problems can result when carelessly applied pesticides, especially herbicides, drift and cause damage to economically or aesthetically important crops. In all cases there will be an added expense to the process of applying the crop protectant materials. “

Further it states that “The National Coalition on Drift Minimization has recently defined ‘pesticide drift’ as the physical movement of pesticide through the air at the time of pesticide application, or soon thereafter, from the target site (field, crop, etc.) to any non- or off-target site. Pesticide drift shall not include movement of pesticides to non-or off-target sites caused by erosion, migration, volatility, or windblown soil particles that occurs after application unless specifically addressed on the pesticide product label with respect to drift control requirements. Example: Command herbicide requires that the product be soil incorporated to avoid vapor drift. There are a number of reasons why we hear more about spray drift than we have in the past. Spray drift can have serious consequences, such as poisoning of farm workers, fish kills, crop damage, etc. Consequently, the public is much more aware of all types of spray applications.“

The Department of Primary Industry in Tasmania reported that “Crops have been damaged by drift from these herbicides [2,4-D] applied up to 10 kilometres away.”

The USA Pesticide Action Network publication “Pesticide Drift: Views from Beyond the Fence Line” suggests that the impacts of drift are to farm workers in adjacent fields, neighbours living near fields and those who live near other neighbours that spray, beneficial insect populations, and to wild plants, birds, mammals and other non-target species. In addition the risk to organic farms, due to the denial of certification if residues are confirmed in the organic crop, was reported.
Most importantly the paper states that of around 4000 cases of agricultural pesticide poisoning reported between 1991 and 1996 some 44% were caused by drift – over 300 people a year poisoned by spray drift.
They give a comprehensive definition of drift as “Any pesticide that travels through the air, including spray droplets created during a liquid application, gas-phase chemicals from fumigant applications, airborne dusts or powders, pesticides that volatilize after application, and pesticide-contaminated dust particles.”

The paper confirms the worst fears of those of us who have long expressed concerns about the way risk assessments are performed and comments that the Risk Assessment in reality suggests that harm we don’t know about yet is of no importance and that there is an assumption that exposure is to a single pesticide, despite recorded air sampling showing an average of 7 pesticides per sample.
It is also assumed that label instructions effectively control exposures because people always read them, follow directions and never make mistakes. Again this is proven to be a dangerously false assumption.
There is a serious lack of reliable information in respect to pesticide use, adverse health effects, and the true exposure levels, because inhalation risks are virtually ignored and very little actual monitoring of air-borne pesticides has been done. In addition the chronic effects of pesticides are either denied or are not understood.
On September 12, 1996 the organisation reported that “Twenty two farm workers including three pregnant women were rushed to hospitals last week after being poisoned by a mixture of toxic pesticides while harvesting grapes near Bakersfield, California, according to United Farm Workers (UFW). A crop dusting plane was applying pesticides to a nearby cotton field when the accident occurred. It is estimated that as many as 225 additional farm workers were also exposed to the chemicals, which drifted into the grape fields. Victims exhibited a range of pesticide poisoning symptoms including vomiting and irritated eyes and noses.”

The University of Nebraska issued advice on the reduction of spray drift and commented that “Droplets smaller than 100 microns are considered highly driftable and are so small they cannot be readily seen unless in high concentrations, such as fog. By comparison, a dime is about 1,270 microns thick. As a result of the small size, drift is more dependent on the irregular movement of turbulent air than on gravity.
Particle drift is the actual movement of spray particles away from the target area. Many factors affect this type of drift, but the most important is the initial size of the droplet. Small droplets fall through the air slowly, and are carried farther by air movement.”
The paper gives the average times taken for drift to reach the ground and remarks that “The longer the droplet is airborne, the greater the potential for drift.” Giving figures of 28 hours for droplet sizes of one micron and 17 minutes for larger 10 micron droplets to fall to the ground. Simple calculations with wind speeds demonstrate that drift can carry for many miles even during spraying operations. Volatile chemicals which lift off of the crop after spraying can drift even further since the air movement will raise them high in to the air and in 28 hours, even at winds of 5 miles an hour, the distances are enormous - Environmental Data Services reportedly found drift at 90 miles. As PAN suggests “it is frequently insidious -- invisible to the eye and odorless -- often persisting for days, weeks, or even months after application, as volatile chemicals evaporate and contaminate the air.” Whether or not such drift carries health implications will depend on the type of chemical and upon the susceptibility of the crop or person affected, but it will also depend on how long the exposure lasts, and that is much longer for those who reside near the sprayed crop.
Certainly there are recognised dangers from cumulative and irreversible nerve toxins for which there are no known levels at which harm does not result from exposures. This may account for the reports of neurological and cognitive defects in areas where agricultural spraying is frequent.

NPAS Memorandum on Chemical Spray Drift and Genetically Modified Organism states “It is now generally accepted that if I as a farmer have animals on my property, I am responsible for fencing that will prevent them from trespassing on my neighbor's property. Some time ago Robert Frost captured this tradition of respecting each other's property and the activities within such property with his now famous phrase, "good fences make good neighbors."
But we have not always applied this same tradition to crop agriculture. Since crops don't move about, we sometimes think that "fences" aren't required in crop agriculture. Yet the same "fencing" requirement holds true. If I apply toxic chemicals on my crops, for example, I have the responsibility to prevent chemical "drift" that could damage a crop that is not tolerant to that chemical on my neighbor's land.
The advent of new technologies has made this "fencing" requirement more difficult. New classes of chemicals which can cause damage to some crops and gardens up to 15 miles away, has made it more difficult to be good neighbors. But the principle still holds true. Any activity on my farm that causes a yield-loss or market-loss on my neighbor's farm makes me liable for that trespass.
Legal precedents now exist. When chemical drift onto an organic farm causes the loss of that farm's certification and therefore the loss of that farmer's premium markets the full cost of that loss can be collected from the farm from which the drift originated.”

In New Zealand on 21st March 2003 “Concerns over inadequate spray drift laws aired this week highlight the need for a strong Chemical Trespass law”…… “My bill says that, in the first instance, there would be a requirement on all users of agrichemicals to keep their sprays within their boundaries. If they breach this, the obligation would then be on the chemical user to prove their chemical use was safe. This would be much fairer and easier to enforce,” Mr Ewen-Street said.
“Our farmers and horticulturalists use a number of sprays which can cause health problems, and people need protection against unwanted exposure to these chemicals, even if it is accidental. Spray drift is not only a major health issue in many areas of New Zealand, it is also a significant issue for organic farmers who could lose their certification from chemicals drifting onto their crops.”

In December 1999 The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs stated “The drift of spray from pesticide applications can expose people, wildlife and the environment to pesticide residues that can cause health and environmental effects and property damage.”
I see absolutely no evidence to suggest that the situation is different here in the UK. In fact the persistent denials of any harm to human health from pesticides, as seen in the consultation document itself, indicates that things are worse here, with the science badly flawed. The very people who should be protecting the population from harm are deliberately hiding the true situation. Risks are also higher here because of the greater density of population and the more intensive agriculture practiced on these crowded islands.
The regulatory authorities cannot deny the accumulated knowledge about the way chemicals drift in the air.
Members of the Medical Toxicology Unit in London referred to a specialist computer programme designed to trace the source of chemical contaminants in the atmosphere in a televised documentary about their work.
That system was able to trace the source of hydrocarbons, following reports of ill health, to a collision involving an oil tanker in the North Sea. The computer programme was able to trace air movements based on meteorological records and was formed as the result of testing performed by the MoD. Again the distance reached by aerosol sprays was studied by the MoD as long ago as the 1950s in the research claimed to be in efforts to determine how chemical weapons would spread on land.
Biological markers released at sea were recorded at various points many miles away inland. On the basis of those studies ways to protect armies from chemical weapons were determined. Weapons grade chemicals are designed to have short active lives with those remaining effective for more than 10 minutes being regarded as persistent. Pesticides are designed to be rapidly active against the target organism and some are extremely persistent, often active for months.
The former Deputy Chief Medical Officer admitted that some pesticides pose greater long-term health risks than does nerve gas designed for war when providing advice to the doctors of Porton Down Volunteers.
It is well known that even a slight disruption in the hormonal balance within the body can cause serious adverse health effects and many ingredients in pesticides have proven hormone-disrupting properties.
The cumulative and irreversible nerve toxins present equally serious dangers to those regularly exposed. Many of the scientists who now proclaim that pesticide drift poses no risk to health are aware of this research and questions must therefore be asked of them as to why they are denying known risks.

There is no doubt that pesticide drift does indeed cause adverse health effects here in the UK and I have copies of incomplete Pesticide Incidents Appraisal Panel reports dating from 1986 to 1994 which confirmed many cases of poisoning resulting from single low-dose exposure to spray drift. This is the very type of exposure for which adverse health effects are now denied and this indicates the real reason why increasing numbers of people are angry at the failure of the regulatory authorities here in the UK.
Farming Today, Radio 4, 15th October 2002 reported that ”Over the last year there were 167 incidents relating to pesticides.
The majority of complaints were from members of the public who reported spray drift, or farmers spraying when conditions have been too windy. HSE inspectors have issued 47 enforcement notices during the year and thirty-seven charges have been brought before the courts. There have been seven convictions with an average fine of over £1000. Over all the number of pesticide incidents though is slightly down year-on-year.”
This is because it is now almost impossible to persuade officials to admit poisoning but as seen above it is recognised that people who reside within areas where spraying takes place are exposed to far greater quantities of pesticide than was seen in those confirmed cases of poisoning from single drift exposures, and it is likely that the true cause of any resulting symptoms would be missed by GPs.
That could result in contraindicated drugs being administered in error and long-term “unexplained” ill health is very likely to follow. In addition there are many neurological illnesses, such as dyspraxia in children, which have been found at increased levels in agricultural areas and are believed to be the result of low-level exposures whilst in the womb. More importantly those who live in areas where pesticide spraying is frequent will be exposed to multiple chemicals from various toxicological groups, all of which will target different systems in the body. Decades ago the government advised those poisoned by one type of chemical not to move to a different type because of the increased risk to their long-term health, if not their lives. It is recognised that there has been very little testing in respect to mixtures. In fact estimates suggest that to test all of the chemical combinations used in agriculture would keep every laboratory busy for at least 50 years with the likelihood that the task would never be finished. It is quite wrong therefore to suggest that the toxicity of the mixtures to which those residing near sprayed fields are exposed is in any way understood or properly assessed. The dangers to health are therefore very serious.

“Option 1: Do nothing” is therefore not a sustainable option and must be rejected even though I have no doubt that the many hundreds of chemical companies and farming organisations invited to comment will disagree. I presume that they have never suffered the effects of poisoning, and are therefore unable to comment with authority, but I would ask them to tell us all exactly what monitoring and protection they offer to their own employees in order to avoid poisoning, and why those techniques are denied to the rest of us.
Interestingly the Farmers Weekly employed a cartoon recently depicting a very small area left in the centre of the field, which remained to be sprayed after the proposed buffer zones had been marked out.
The real joke was that although the paper proclaimed no need for those buffer zones the user of the pesticides was depicted dressed in full protective equipment – an obvious reference to the dangers.
Those exposed repeatedly to spray drift and vapour lifting from the crop after spraying are not provided with such protection. I have yet to see any advertised equipment designed to protect those who are housebound, or even confined to bed through illness, and who will be unable to seal their homes in order to prevent exposure.

If pesticides are still to be permitted for use I therefore support “Option 2: Farmers and growers to operate a no-spray buffer zone between the edge of spraying and surrounding houses.”
There would however be no need for buffer zones at all had the chemicals been properly tested and proven to present no risk to health before they were marketed for use.
This problem has been brought on the industry by itself and by the indifference shown by it, and by the regulatory authorities, to those for whom its chemicals have brought suffering and misery.
It is stated that such restrictions would add to the work burden of farmers but this too is misleading. Farmers already have to ensure that there are no spray areas for certain chemicals under the LERAP regulations, which are intended to protect waterways from spray drift and over-spraying. Livestock farmers have to keep detailed records of veterinary medicines. Why should arable farmers avoid such controls? I know of at least three individuals locally who were physically over-sprayed as booms passed over them. One was hospitalised but survived despite serious illness, one has ME, and the other contracted pancreatic cancer and died.
There is more protection built in to the regulations for bees, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and for susceptible crops, than there currently is for the protection of human life.

Regarding the questions posed in the document my comments are as follows. [Q: Do you feel that the present risk assessment adequately addresses the risks posed by pesticide spraydrift? If not what additional criteria do you believe should be covered?]
Obviously the present risk assessment is not adequate for the reasons given above.
Other reasons supporting that view come from Government advice dating from the 1980s and sent to all farmers by ADAS, the government’s own advice agency. Farmers were warned that certain chemicals could lift off of the crop for some days after application, that they could be carried by the wind and that those chemicals could kill greenhouse crops up to 5 miles distant from the spraying area. The warning was given to protect neighbours and their crops and to avoid costly damages payments but the need for that warning demonstrates that drift was a known problem even then. Recently there were reports in the press of many sunbathers on a beach who suffered from the toxic effects of herbicides sprayed some distance away. Again the application was lawful, it seems, but it is clear that the present regulation did not protect people at some distance from the sprayed area. The Journal of Pesticide Reform of Spring 1995 stated that “Pesticide drift is unavoidable whenever pesticides are applied. Drift is greatest from aerial applications, when typically about 40 percent of the pesticide applied is lost to drift. Drift from aerial applications routinely is measured hundreds of yards away from the application site, and has been measured miles away. Ground applications of pesticides can drift for hundreds of feet.” But I have personally been able to taste pesticide in the air when ground application was taking place some miles away and I know others who have traced the source of pesticide sensed in the wind and found it to be 11 miles distant from the ground spraying application.
Much depends on the weather conditions at the time, the type of chemical in use, and the health status of the affected person. Some have conditions that make them far more susceptible to very small doses – a similar effect as is found in those with a life-threatening allergy to certain foods and drugs, or insect bites and stings.

Residential Exposure Assessments. In order to make a true and accurate cumulative assessment all uses of pesticides from which there will be exposures should be accounted for and these should include:

exposures during application of crop pesticides, including dermal and continuous inhalation absorption.

post application exposures, including the continuous inhalation of vapours, and dermal exposures.

exposures to additional hazardous toxins formed by chemical breakdown or by the action of sunlight

pesticide residues in food and water, and those drifting on to garden plants, lawns and rights of way.

exposures to pesticides used in the home and garden, including pet treatments and insect controls.

exposures to pesticides used in public areas away from the home, such as on golf courses, sports fields, in schools, parks and playgrounds, and on public footpaths, roads and pavements.

I have seen attempts to indicate a low risk from pesticide spraying but those studies have not taken into account all of the above exposure routes. In fact often they simply refer to exposure at the actual time of spraying – and then only to dermal exposures and at a set height from the ground. Any claim of “safety” based on such inadequate research should be dismissed as irrelevant in this consultation.

[Q: Do you feel that the present advice and guidance in the ‘Green Code’ is adequate? What, if anything, could usefully be added to it?]
The Green Code is voluntary and unenforceable. It is therefore totally inadequate for the intended purpose since there is no obligation to abide by its recommendations.
The first action should be to make the recommendations enforceable in law and the failure to do so will be seen as an intention to allow users to avoid their responsibilities for the protection of the environment and for the health of those who live, and work, in the immediate area.

[Q: The imposition of no-spray buffer zones is not justified solely on scientific grounds. What, if any, public interest justification do you believe there is for introducing them?]
Just who was responsible for inserting this comment? Why was it worded in such an ambiguous way?
What does “not justified solely on scientific grounds” mean? Is the intended meaning that buffer zones are not justified by the science alone, or, that there are other reasons in addition to the known science, or is the implication a false one in that it suggests that there is no scientific justification for introducing buffer zones?
The USA Cornell University’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering reported in “Spray Drift Management — an international problem” that “Spray drift of pesticides is an important and costly problem facing pesticide applicators. Drift results in damage to susceptible off target crops, environmental contamination to watercourses and a lower than intended rate to the target crop, thus reducing the effectiveness of the pesticide. Pesticide drift also affects neighbouring properties, often leading to concern and debate. As more people choose to live in the picturesque setting of an orchard and growers continue to sell plots to increase their revenue, so the debate will continue. There are two types of drift, airborne drift, often very noticeable and vapour drift. The amount of vapour drift will depend upon atmospheric conditions such as humidity, temperature and the product being applied and can occur days after an application is made. Drift is influenced by many inter-related factors including droplet size, nozzle type and size, sprayer design, weather conditions and last but not least the operator.
……..Wind speed and direction, relative humidity, temperature and atmospheric stability affects drift. Applying the correct product to the correct target at the correct time with the correct equipment is the key to good spraying. Research in England and New Zealand has been conducted to measure the effectiveness of shelterbelts. Natural and artificial belts were used and drift is reduced the closer you are to the shelterbelt. Shelterbelt height and density will affect drift, and may, in certain conditions, create additional air currents and eddies. There are so many variables such as topography and wind direction that it is difficult to conclude that research at one site is transferable to another. It is worth noting that German growers face Federal drift measuring programs to ensure a safe buffer zone of up to 150 feet resulting in severe restrictions for some growers.”

There are clear and sound scientific and ethical arguments for the introduction of buffer zones, if the spraying of dangerous pesticides is to be permitted to continue in this country.
Under the Human Rights Act the individual has the right to life, to proper medical treatment, the right to health, and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. Allowing pesticides to encroach on to non-target crops, other people’s property, and to endanger health, is a violation of those rights but it is also in breach of the COSHH regulations, which require users of pesticides to reduce the risks to members of the public and to account for those risks, which would include drift, before using the pesticides.
In addition there are vulnerable members of society who need additional protection. This includes children, the elderly, and those with cancer, or with neurological, cardio-respiratory or immune system dysfunction.
All these issues fully justify the introduction of buffer zones and indicate the need for a total ban on the use of the more dangerous nerve poisons and endocrine system disruptors.

[Q: If no-spray buffer zones are to be introduced what sizes do you believe these should be? Should they all be of a single uniform size or would they need to be of varying size to take into account different application equipment and different crops?]
The size of the buffer zones should be determined by the most vulnerable residents and not by the user of the pesticides. Some residents will be in danger with any exposure. Some may not be susceptible to all pesticides or their co-formulants, but it is also likely that all residents will be susceptible to the long-term cumulative effects of the mixtures, which are currently unknown. It is all very well for those of us who are able to submit to this consultation to make suggestions but they may not be sufficient to protect those who are unable to put their views forward or who are under the influence of medical treatments that prevent them from doing so.
I suggest that those who state that no buffer zones are required have no right to do so for, unless they suffer from severe health effects which are worsened by pesticide exposure and have considered those who perhaps do not have the same advantages in controlling exposure, they simply do not know enough to comment.
It is no good relying on low-drift or “LERAP” nozzles as a means to protect public health. That protection begins with the planning of the purchase of the pesticide. Other factors that will influence the size of those buffer zones will include wind speed and direction, the expected weather pattern in the weeks following application, the type of chemical or mixture of chemicals in use, and the health status of local residents. Growing different crops would make little difference to this basic problem. This point appears to be raised to cause division between farmers who use many applications, as on lettuces and brassicas, and those who use few sprays, such as grassland farmers, but the reality is that vulnerable people will suffer with any application and that application could well be their last if the effects are severe. Multiple applications increase the risk and increase the cumulative burden on all the residents within the potential drift area.

[Q: In view of the potential losses of cropping land do you feel, in the absence of any confirmatory scientific information, such losses are warranted? For example would the environmental benefits gained from no-spray zones mitigate in some way for the ‘loss’ of cropping land?]
On what grounds do those who wrote this document claim that buffer zones will reduce cropping land area?
Are the thousands of hectares of set-aside land forgotten? Why no mention of no-spray livestock areas?
Why no suggestion that such areas could be devoted to the reintroduction into the British countryside of those rare species of plant which have been in decline since widespread pesticide use was employed?
What of organic production methods? Why can these methods not be adopted near residential areas?
Again it is implied that there is no scientific evidence to justify the introduction of buffer zones – why?
At the very least the majority of heavy users of pesticides would be able to transfer set aside areas and so create no spray buffer zones around sensitive areas with no loss whatsoever in production. It is claimed that the use of traditional cultivation methods to control weeds on such areas would be detrimental to wildlife but those who suggest this must have forgotten that pesticide-free agriculture was the norm until very recently in the history of mankind. That historic form of agriculture created the wide variety of flora and fauna that has been lost to the environment in recent decades. It relied almost exclusively on mechanical means of weed control used in combination with rotations long since abandoned, and also created employment for those who lived in rural areas, work which pesticide use has helped move to the industrial centres, often based overseas.

[Q: What are your thoughts on the estimated areas given in the above table.[depicting suggested areas affected by the proposals] Do you have any data/information yourself that either confirms the above or arrives at different values?]
Why is it suggested that grassland would be taken out of production if buffer zones were introduced?
Presumably it is assumed that all grassland relies upon chemical weed control but there are many areas where permanent grassland is the norm and no sprays are used at all. In fact it is unlikely that any of the figures quoted can be relied upon since the estimated number of people affected by pesticide operations is still disputed and therefore the true number of dwelling places cannot be accurately stated. Without that figure and specific details as to the distances of those dwellings from cropped land it would seem that such estimates are nothing but propaganda. The relative position of dwellings and cropped areas is vitally important in the on farm situation. For example a 300 metre buffer zone on either side of this village would help to protect hundreds of residents and their visitors but that same distance all around one isolated dwelling outside of the village would only help to protect one family and their visitors.
This presents similar problems for the farmer as posed by the “Straw Burning Code” introduced in the 1980s.
In that case the farming activities were again causing nuisance but in most cases the burning of straw did not present a threat to life, except in the rare incidents where road traffic accidents were caused by smoke. Once again the farming community did not wish to lose a powerful tool in the battle with pests, diseases, and cost reduction. This once a year activity also caused the production of airborne particles and again the instruction was to leave buffer zones of 15 metres or more around dwellings, hedges, telegraph poles, and roads. This resulted in greater costs, with some fields made so small by the firebreaks as to make burning impossible.
The similarities with the proposal to introduce no-spray zones show that the same problems must be overcome, but with pesticide use the nuisance is repeated numerous times during the year, and repeated year after year, and there is a cumulative risk to health, cardio-respiratory, neurological and endocrine systems.
Interestingly, despite the need to notify Police and Fire Services prior to straw and stubble burning, a minority ignored the recommendations and the nuisance continued until a total ban was officially established.
Only then were machines designed to help farmers cope with unwanted straw and there is little doubt that efforts will be made to find a more efficient and safe way to apply pesticides if, or when, the use of current application methods is restricted. Currently a large proportion of applied pesticide never reaches the target pest, or plant, and the rest poses a risk to our health, our food and water, and to the environment.
No improvements are ever made unless they are forced on the industry by legally binding regulation.
Naturally the industry always fights for the cheapest option but that may present serious risks to public health and so it is the duty of the regulatory bodies to protect the public from bad industrial practices.
The proposed buffer zones can be instigated with no loss of production, given the will and the right support.

[Q: Are the figures of 5 million and a quarter of a million [people potentially affected] above accurate?] [Comment: The above question in no way implies any criticism of the figures produced by PAN UK. Rather we are trying to establish if other estimates of those potentially affected by spray drift are available]
Given the enormous distances over which pesticides are proven to drift I imagine the figures quoted for the numbers of people directly affected and living in the immediate danger areas are grossly underestimated. In simple terms millions drive on the roads every day and they could all potentially be exposed to drift from pesticide applications in fields through which those roads travel, exposures enhanced by the air being sucked into the confines of the cars and lorries. Those who have never experienced the ingress into the car of pesticide vapours would not understand this point but it is a real risk, which is overlooked and will increase the numbers of those affected enormously. Equally calculations for those who live near areas that are sprayed do not account for those who visit their homes from outside the proposed “risk areas”. For each person living in such areas there could be dozens of visitors who could potentially be exposed and be put at risk. So without doubt the figures are not accurate and are merely estimates, likely to be grossly underestimated. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in its June 2003 “Twenty-fourth Report - CHEMICALS IN PRODUCTS” made reference to susceptible groups and commented on the very form of low-level exposure as results from pesticide drift.
Under “Susceptibility” they wrote:
2.125 There is increasing public concern about the protection of people who are especially sensitive to chemical exposure, and the effects on humans of chronic low-level exposure to chemicals.
Susceptible population sub-groups are usually assumed to include children, pregnant women, people with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly and certain ethnic groups.
2.126 The concept of susceptibility can be defined in a number of ways in different scientific and policy settings, ranging from easily identifiable sets of sub-population traits to individual genetic variability. Scientific literature tends to define susceptibility in terms of individual variability, particularly genetic susceptibility. The susceptibility of individuals within a population to a particular chemical varies widely and is dependent on many genetic and environmental factors, including the state of nutrition or presence of disease… At all levels, from uptake to excretion, the molecules in the human body that interact with specific chemicals are subject to genetic variation. In particular it is believed that the genetic variation in certain enzymes, especially those in the liver and at epithelial surfaces, responsible for metabolising chemicals (the phase II enzymes …… usually determines the extent of endogenous protection against chemicals that might cause genetic damage in humans.”

What has been overlooked is that a susceptible person living away from the no-spray buffer zones but who visits the area will not be included in the millions quoted as being affected in the consultation document. In addition in 2001 the World Health Organisation in cooperation with the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health produced a booklet called “Preventing Health Risks from the Use of Pesticides in Agriculture”. That document reported that “Pesticides could persist, being dangerous long time after spraying” with the advice that we should “Try to use less pesticides: it saves money, and reduces health risks.“ Importantly the document states that “MOST PESTICIDES ARE TOXIC AND COULD CAUSE ILL-EFFECTS IN YOUR BODY“ How does that fit will the claims that no adverse health effects are recognised?

Furthermore that same booklet reports that “Farmers and bystanders are exposed to pesticides in many different situations such as: Mixing/loading; Application (spraying); Selling, transporting and storing;….. Re-entry into the field; Spillage; Disposal” and although it can be argued that these risks are low in some circumstances it is clear that residents and their visitors are more likely to enter recently sprayed areas and to receive higher exposures than will either the protected workers or occasional bystanders.
The WHO booklet also advises that users should “Be aware of the wind. Do not spray against the wind; Do not apply pesticides when it is raining; Keep people and animals out of freshly treated crops; Do not blow the knapsack nozzles if blocked; Do not walk through sprayed foliage; Never leave pesticides and equipment unattended”, and that “The risk of hazardous contamination exists also after the application of the pesticide”. Again those who drew up this consultation paper have ignored the risks to those who visit sprayed areas after the application and to those who live and work nearby. Many of these people will not live permanently in the dwellings referred to in the estimates given for the numbers of people affected.
As an example the WHO booklet recommends the use of warning signs but warns that “Children may not understand hazard warning signs. If it is likely that they or other persons who are unable to understand the signs may enter the field, other precautions should be taken” and yet such recommendations are ignored.
Many years ago my employer instructed that I sprayed a formulation of lindane on grassland. The field was bounded by a high hedge and multi-stranded barbed wire, beyond which was a road, further hedges, gardens and houses. Later, as I drove past the field it was clear that children from the houses, and their friends from outside the area, had chosen that day to use the field as a football pitch. I warned them not to play in the field and they left but later a friend reported that they had returned to the field. A warning sign was placed in the middle of their “football pitch” but it was then used, with their coats and shirts, to form their “goal posts”.
Trying to explain the dangers faced by the children to the parents was an impossible task because the pesticide propaganda gives the general public the impression that all these chemicals are “safe”.
The claim that “it is unlikely that there would be any safety gains involved.” is therefore unlikely to be true.

[Q: If no-spray buffer zones are to be introduced what sizes do you believe these should be? Should they all be of a single uniform size or would they need to be of varying size to take into account different application equipment and different crops?]
There is a major question of public confidence here and the public will not be confident that farmers will adhere to the rules should variable no-spray zones be permitted and it will cause confusion and concern.
How is the public to know what chemicals are in use and whether or not the correct buffer zone has been applied? I have often experienced the concern of members of the public who have confused a fertiliser-broadcasting machine with a pesticide sprayer and this demonstrates that clear guidelines are required.
As stated before, the size of buffer zones should not be set by the user but by the most vulnerable in the area, since they should be protected as much as possible. The user does not have the right to harm the bystander or the residents who live near the areas on to which the user applies the pesticide. The type of crop or application method may or may not reduce the potential for harm but will not eliminate it completely.
Any harm done is too much. The claim that ”Although the introduction of no-spray buffer zones are unlikely to involve any safety gains they may result in social benefits to farm neighbours and those using the countryside for recreation etc.” is again misleading but shows a determination to avoid recognition of the considerable and mounting volume of scientific evidence which demonstrates adverse health effects.

[Q: Are there any other direct or indirect benefits you think may accrue as a result of no-spray zones being introduced?]
The obvious immediate benefit will be peace of mind for those living in the area. The risk to their health and their gardens would be reduced at a stroke. No spray areas are also likely to improve the environment by allowing nature a degree of recovery. Hospital workloads are also likely to fall as fewer people suffer the adverse effects of chemical toxins. Farmers may be given more efficient means to control pests and diseases.
Better ways of managing set-aside and the buffer zone areas may be found that will be advantageous to all.
A report, issued by the Office of Management and Budget, in the USA concluded “that the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules. The value of reductions in hospitalization and emergency room visits, premature deaths and lost workdays resulting from improved air quality were estimated between $120 billion and $193 billion from October 1992 to September 2002.”

[Q: Are you aware of any areas of the country that are likely to be disproportionately affected were no-spray buffer zones to be introduced?]
It is interesting that the suggestion under the previous heading was that forestry would be badly affected by no spray zones, especially given the suggestion that hedges and trees could restrict spray drift. Forests have been grown for centuries without pesticide use and I really cannot see the logic in the claim that forestry would be disadvantaged. Coppiced areas for fuel could provide buffer zones. Similarly with grassland, which can be successfully grown without pesticide use. In fact I recall that we stopped ploughing and reseeding grassland because permanent pasture produced similar yields, was less liable to poaching (damage from grazing animals), was more resistant to insect attacks, and, because the sward was less open, it was protected more from drought and weed infestation. Research into these areas has given way to constant reseeding and pesticide use in recent decades. There is room for improvement without pesticide use.
In all areas of the country it is likely there will be farmers and growers who might be “disproportionately affected” and these will probably be those who have smaller acreages and who grow crops which are repeatedly sprayed with pesticides. Most of these will be horticulturalists and intensive vegetable producers, the very group whose produce the public hopes will be free of pesticide residues. In such cases the introduction of no-spray zones will surely encourage pesticide free production, which could be advantageous. To suggest that “losses of cropping land in England could be anything between 28,500 Ha and 1,400,000 Ha for arable land and between 68,000 Ha and 1,966,000 Ha for improved grassland” without accounting for the areas already in set-aside is misleading in the extreme. No account has been taken of any alternative cropping systems, which could be used to maintain production within the buffer zones, and it would seem that the estimates for the amount of cropping land involved in such a scheme are not based on accurate data.

[Q: Are you able to provide any cost estimates of the likely impact on growers of the introduction of no-spray zones? General or sector specific figures would both be helpful.]
Again these comments are misleading since there are cost benefits as well as possible disadvantages.
There is no reference in the documentation to the costs to the health service, to the water purification industry, or to neighbours and insurers, which result from damage caused by pesticide spraying.
Some time ago Professor Alan Walker reported on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme that just a 5 ml teaspoonful of herbicide could contaminate 25 million litres of water at above the legal pollution limit.
Water supply companies have to remove pesticides from water and this has a considerable cost.
The British Medical Association “Guide to Pesticides, Chemicals and Health” reported that pesticides were often found in drinking water, despite the expensive processes used in attempts to remove them.
The HSE have attempted to quantify to costs to industry of illness caused by accidents and the loss to industry, as the result of illness, is also considerable. The same losses would be caused to industries other than agriculture if environmental exposures to pesticide drift cause illness in their rural dwelling workers.
In addition the cost of medical investigations and treatments must also be accounted for when calculating the true cost to the economy of pesticide use, as should the cost of production and transport.
Should the use of pesticides be reduced by the introduction of no-spray zones – and that point is certainly debatable – then those costs mentioned above would also be reduced and must be off-set against the resulting losses, if any. In reality it is likely that if set-aside areas can be used as a means to create no-spray zones then the impact of the introduction of those zones would be minimal and costs may even be reduced.

[Comment: We would welcome any information from small businesses on how they would be affected were no-spray buffer zones to be introduced.]
I can no longer comment for business but it is clear to me that had buffer zones been introduced at the time that I was managing the farm all spraying would end, save for approximately a third the cropped area. Although the farm was run fairly intensively with a high stocking rate and some five cuts of grass for silage every year, rotated in part with cereal crops, the only real problem caused by such a ban would have been weed, leatherjacket and disease control in the cereals and the control of leatherjackets in grassland.
Pelletted pesticides were once available for leatherjackets but I understand that pressure from large arable farms caused that safer form to be withdrawn. Fungal diseases in cereals were beginning to be controlled by seed dressings and it was rare that spring crops required insecticide. Weed control would have required a rethink in policy but there is no doubt that timely ploughing and cultivations could limit that problem.
Had set-aside been compulsory at the time it is possible that the delegated area could have solved some problems and there was always pressure to let land for growing crops used for game birds.
Each business would have different problems and unique solutions so no general comments would be likely to be useful to any other farmer or in any other area. Most problems are surmountable given the will.

[Q: What do you believe the competitive effect on UK growers would be compared to their EU counterparts were no-spray buffer zones to be introduced?]
There is no doubt at all that if no-spray zones are introduced in the UK then the EU will have to follow suit in order to protect the people of Europe. Conversely, as I suspect is realised and will explain the introduction of false statements into the consultation, failure to introduce the no-spray zones, will be seen as a sign that there is no need to introduce them across Europe. As the WHO booklet mentioned earlier stated, reducing pesticide use has a cost advantage. In my experience the advantages of using some pesticide applications was grossly exaggerated and rarely produced the claimed increases in yield. Weather conditions and timely actions are a greater factor when it comes to crop yields and many good crops are destroyed by heavy thunderstorms, hail, gales, frosts, droughts and flooding. This is not to suggest that weeds, disease, and insects, do not play a part in reducing yields, or that pesticides in their various forms have not assisted production, but the comparative effect on growers in the UK should no-spray zones be introduced here but not in the rest of Europe should not be exaggerated in order to provide an excuse for avoiding action.
Any yield reduction caused by buffer zones would have a corresponding reduction in costs, especially if the areas of set-side are used as those zones, and it is possible that the “competitive effect” may be neutral.

[Enforcement and sanctions
19. The proposals would be enforced alongside other on-farm pesticide enforcement matters under the existing enforcement arrangements operated by HSE and would be subject to existing sanctions.]
I assume that this is a joke?
I don’t think anyone who knows the reality of the situation actually believes that the HSE enforces pesticide regulations. A weaker force for good is difficult to imagine. In every case that I have been aware of the HSE has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into any investigation and at best their participation could be described as inadequate. In my own case they were downright dishonest – and still deny proven facts.
Even in their most successful case to date, that of the Boswell Case here on the Isle of Wight, the HSE fought a public battle with residents in their efforts to protect the farmer. Despite a public debate, at which the HSE denied any wrong doing by the farmer, and their claim to have fully investigated the complaints of local residents, some of whom had been hospitalised, it later transpired that serious breaches of regulation had taken place – just as the residents had reported. Even so the HSE would never have admitted the problem had the supermarkets supplied by the farmer not been informed. Interestingly despite the proof that the residents were correct and the HSE was wrong, none of their health concerns were admitted, and steps were taken to ensure that the adverse effects could not be recorded as resulting from that illegal pesticide use.
My own case, and that of another poisoned by the actions of my former employer’s staff, was raised in the House of Lords in 1996. Interestingly the excuses made as to the inappropriateness of my efforts to obtain the truth from the HSE were also found to be false when, some 5 years later, it was discovered that in these cases too the HSE had failed to discover the illegal use of pesticides. This failure occurred despite notification of just such actions by the farmer being given to the HSE in writing at the time.
So it is not correct to say that there are “existing enforcement arrangements” because the regulations are not being properly enforced. As a result it is quite wrong to then suggest that any sanctions exist and it is clear from the many cases of which I have knowledge that even when permanent disability results from the improper, or even the illegal, use of pesticides the HSE uses every conceivable excuse to avoid enforcing both the regulations and taking action against the offender. In fact the victims of such offences more often than not find that the entire government machine is mobilised against their efforts to improve matters.

In conclusion we have no less a person than the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides shamelessly pronouncing on national radio that the problem of poisoning by pesticide drift can be likened to noise nuisance. In fact noise nuisance has been shown to be detrimental to health in ways that can easily be reversed by removing the noise. Even if all spraying is banned immediately the health of those who have been adversely affected by chemical exposure will never be recovered. Those suffering from the effects of pesticide exposure are often condemned to a lifetime of ill health and disability with proven consequences in such complications as cancer, respiratory and neurological illnesses, now common in agricultural areas. Currently each spraying application makes their lives considerably more difficult and further endangers their health. There is a duty to protect the vulnerable in society and it is vitally important therefore that no spray areas, notification, and the right to access information, are legally enforced.
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act may require the State to take action to protect individuals from pollution and vulnerable people from exposure to known dangerous toxins, especially where those exposures are seriously affecting their lives. There is an absolute Right under Article 2 that the law must protect the lives of individuals. The State may not take life - even if that action is unintentional.
Failing to protect the public from poisons used by others can and will result in avoidable deaths and if no spray areas are not introduced it will be an intentional act, which ignores the proven dangers.


Dated 29/9/2003   Updated 29/10/2005

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