Submission on the Thematic Strategy the Sustainable Use of Pesticides 2006.

4th December 2006

Alex Steele
Pesticides Safety Directorate
Mallard House
Kings Pool
3 Peasholme Green
York. YO1 7PX

Dear Mr Steele,

I write regarding the consultation on the Thematic Strategy for Pesticides proposals for a Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and a Regulation on Pesticide Authorisations.
It seems to me that little note was taken of the information submitted in the consultation of 2002, to which reference should be made, and I have little confidence that the important comments by those who have suffered from the effects of pesticides will be taken into account on this occasion either.
However, it is my firm belief that it is important to show that we have made the effort to report our concerns so that future generations will know that at least some people tried to protect them and their environment from the increasingly acknowledged harm caused by these persistent chemical cocktails.

I am responding as an individual who has experienced various sides of the pesticide problem having been a farm manager for many years with responsibility for purchasing and applying pesticides and veterinary medicines and in recent years suffering from serious disability as a direct result of exposure to misused pesticides. In addition the latter has forced me to obtain evidence that demonstrates the false claims and assumptions of safety, as reported at the highest levels of government but which has so far been ignored.

The Pesticides Thematic Strategy will not “minimise the risk to health and the environment from the use of pesticides” unless the dangers presented by the inaccurate data and the lack of sufficient knowledge of the effects of mixtures and of the co-formulants are recognised and the data gaps eradicated.
In addition current legislation is not enforced so the likelihood that new legislation would make the situation better is highly improbable.
It is therefore unlikely that any new proposals will reduce the risks to human health and the environment, especially if there is no additional funding for enforcement and proper monitoring of the adverse effects that are currently consistently denied, even when there is scientific evidence as was provided to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in their investigation into the problem.

Operator training will not assist sustainable use because trained operators have poisoned many of us. Many of those working under the ‘grandfather rights’ have more experience of the dangers and of the complaints from the public and are better able to avoid problems.

As with road vehicle MoTs the compulsory testing of spray machinery gives a false impression of safety because the results are only valid on the day. Accidental damage to the equipment could happen within hours of the testing and, as with road vehicles, that potentially dangerous fault could remain until the next compulsory test. As mentioned above certification is similarly ineffective because even if the operator is trained and knows the correct procedures there is no certainty that those methods will be practiced after the certificate is gained. The Royal Commission was given evidence to show that trained contractors often fail to adhere to the rules or their training, much as car drivers break the law after passing their test, but with pesticides any breaches can potentially adversely affect a very large number of people and have serious effects on the environment or food crops.
It is of interest to note that concerns have been raised in recent years about the dangers of using illegal imports of pesticides and falsely labelled pesticides. How are those who test the machinery and certify the operators to know which operators willingly use illegal product? In addition, the magazine Profi, a machinery publication for farmers, recently reported that “The HSE and the AEA say they are concerned about the number of sprayers being offered for sale in the UK which meet neither basic health/safety requirements nor standards agreed at European level”. How does that square with the claims by the NFU and others that voluntary controls are providing the required safe use of pesticides in the UK?

Advice on ‘best practice’ in the storage, use and disposal of pesticides, and their packaging has been in constant flux for decades. When I first used pesticides no protective clothing was ever offered and for the most part we were told that all such chemicals were tested and proven to be “safe” before they were permitted for sale. As years passed we found that ever greater restrictions were introduced and that not only was protective clothing a requirement but it also had to comply with ever more strict standards.
Regulations on disposal were similarly tightened and the supposedly powerful Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations were introduced and then strengthened. However the weakness of all those controls was, and remains, the failure to enforce them, even when there is evidence of blatant breaches that have resulted in serious harm to employees and the public.
(e.g. In my own case the same individuals also caused reported harm to members of the public by the irresponsible use of pesticides. No action was taken against them for any breaches of law. Another farmer locally acted similarly and eventually faced a record fine but only after serious protests by residents were persistently ignored and the supermarkets supplied by the farm had demanded a proper investigation into the illegal pesticide use reported by staff. No cases of the resulting ill health were officially recognised.)

Doing nothing is not an option but I would suggest that there would be an immediate improvement in safety standards if enforcement became policy. A few farmers before the court for damaging health or the environment by their irresponsible actions would send a firm message which would cause the industry to take the problem seriously. The false assumption of safety and the current protection of wrongdoers send subliminal messages to all operators that will suggest to them that no action will be taken against them no matter what they do. The situation is similar in those who apply pesticides to public spaces.
It seems to me that the UK is a much more densely populated area than parts of Europe and our controls on pesticide use must therefore be more stringent in order to protect the greater numbers living near pesticide applications. Is it really possible in such circumstances to have a single policy for the whole of Europe? I doubt it and it is highly unlikely that Europe will enforce regulations here in the UK.

A national action plan seems the best way forward but it would be useless without enforcement.
Voluntary measures are obviously not working
or we would have no problems and this discussion would not be taking place. There really seems no point in the suggestion that sprayer testing should be restricted when that very testing is being used to promote the idea that it improves the situation.
Having been a farm manager I have great sympathy with the view that the administration burden on farmers is high but it is not necessarily pesticide use that imposes the greatest burden and for human and animal safety good records of pesticides and medicines used are essential. It is of interest to note that in many cases where farmers have used illegal pesticides there is evidence to suggest that veterinary products are also abused. Again the lack of enforcement encourages the abuse.
A good farmer will stick to the rules and keep records for his own use, both as a record of field applications and for costing purposes so that the most profitable cropping programme can be seen.
It is unlikely that any additional administrative burdens would be placed on farmers and even if they were it is doubtful that they would be any more time consuming than those forced on them by the various “assurance schemes” to which many growers have signed up already.

It cannot be said that any regulation on pesticide use could be “unnecessary”.
These chemicals are often improperly tested and many contain co-formulants that are known to be extremely dangerous both to human health and to the environment. Only those who have not studied the problem in sufficient detail would ever suggest otherwise. Regulation is essential for dangerous chemicals, especially in these days when terrorists seek opportunities to cause harm to, and fear in, the general population.
Avoiding the obligation to impose “penalties” is one factor that has brought us to this stage because, as mentioned above, the failure to enforce current laws and regulations encourages abuse.
Any “flexibility” induced into the system will only serve to create more loopholes through which intentional unlawful actions will again escape punishment. There may already be an infrastructure in place to enforce current UK controls on pesticide use but several investigations into the effects of pesticides on human health have concluded that the system is failing and bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive have been seriously criticised on numerous occasions in the past.

Do you have any comments on the proposal for compulsory testing of application equipment and accessories (for example, the principle, implications of definitions used, implementation timescales, lack of any reference to re-testing and appropriateness of the requirements listed in Annex II)?
An annual test is unlikely to improve the situation
but random tests without notification would rapidly raise the maintenance standards and would reduce the cost of the project.
As mentioned above such testing is only valid at the time of the test. For the rest of the time it is meaningless – except to those who actually think that an annual test equates to safety and they are obviously wrong because in agricultural conditions damage can easily occur at any time, possibly hours after the test. Although there is currently no mandatory requirement for sprayer testing and such testing as is done is voluntarily under assurance scheme requirements at least those who take part are concerned to ensure that their machines are properly maintained at least once a year.
The proposal to test pesticide application equipment subject to regular inspections is probably a good idea but allowing a delay of up to 5 years from the adoption of the draft Directive shows that it will be mostly ineffective for years to come.

Do you have any comments on the proposal for compulsory training and certification of all users, distributors and advisers (for example, imposing new requirements on those selling both amateur and professional products, definitions used, lack of any reference to continuing professional development, implementation timescales and appropriateness of training requirements listed in Annex I)?
I must say that I was under the impression that ALL advisers and salesmen in the UK agricultural pesticide industry had to be BASIS trained with Certificates of Competence before they were legally permitted to sell or recommend pesticides to farmers and growers. That is certainly what chemical salesmen have told me in person and for some pesticides it was also necessary for the purchaser to sign the “poisons book” acknowledging responsibility for taking possession of potentially lethal chemicals.
If that is not the case then it would seem to be a priority to make it so as it may explain why so many users do not realise how dangerous the products they use can be.
That these measures are considered at all is an indication of how dangerous the chemicals involved are in reality. If the chemicals really were as “safe” as claimed then there would be no need for any training or the phasing out of “,i>grandfather rights” that were introduced at a time, we are now told, when the chemicals used in agriculture were supposedly even more dangerous – but when no protective clothing was required to be worn. Clearly, given the dangers of some of the chemicals involved, it is vitally important that those who sell and recommend the use of pesticides to growers should be trained so that they can give accurate warnings on the potential of the products to cause serious harm.

Additionally what is your view on the possible phasing out of ‘grandfather rights’ (a separate note on this forms Annex E to this consultation document)?
The situation regarding “Grandfather Rights” as opposed to ”training” is not as clear-cut as it is suggested.
Most of those with “grandfather rights” probably know as much or more about pesticide use as those who would “train” them because of the many years of working with pesticides. Newly trained operators may well forget much of what they are taught before they have the opportunity to gain experience.
As mentioned above I was poisoned by two men who had been trained and yet at the time of the incident I informed them that they had acted wrongly even though I had never been officially “trained” but had applied pesticides for decades under the “grandfather rights” system. If officials can explain why trained operators failed to adhere to regulations that were known and observed by a non-trained operator please let me know as soon as possible.

Do you have any comments on proposals to protect the aquatic environment (for example, more flexible use of buffer zones where pesticides are used and stored (in particular on safeguard zones established under the Water Framework Directive) and possible measures to limit aerial drift and minimise applications in higher risk amenity situations)?
The first priority is to prevent the problem at source.

That means that pesticides that present a danger to the environment, and especially to the water supply, should be phased out as soon as possible.
Incidentally I have evidence, given to the regulators but ignored, that some organophosphates are extremely persistent in water despite the claims for rapid breakdown that are repeatedly made.
Buffer zones help but so does enforcing regulations on disposal. That was also ignored in my case.
The first priority should be to remove from the market any chemicals that pose a risk and if that were done then there would be no requirement for any buffer zones. The same is true for drift problems.

Do you have any comments on proposals to minimise or prohibit use in public spaces and special conservation areas? On the basis of COSHH, and the requirement to use the least toxic methods, pesticides should not be used in public places where vulnerable people may be exposed.
Prohibition of pesticide use should be the norm with permission given only for specific “emergency” measures.

Do you have any comments on the proposal to promote greater use of low input/ integrated pest management (IPM) techniques?
Sadly IPM is simply a means to maintain pesticide use and will not aid sustainability in the long-term.
Low input techniques are a good step in the right direction – I used a similar system myself 30 years ago and only used the minimum of pesticides when it was necessary in keeping with the farm policy as dictated by the owner of the farm.

Do you have any comments on the broad content and the costs/benefits presented in the partial Regulatory Impact Assessment at Annex B?
I imagine that the costs savings to the National Health Service and to Health Insurers would more than cover any costs incurred by any of the measures proposed.

In addition there would be considerable savings in the long term in regard to removing pesticides from the water supply and the reduction of residues in food and our soil.

Do you have any comments on the proposal to replace national authorisations for plant protection products with three authorisation zones covering all member states?
Would just three zones cover the variation in climatic and soil conditions across Europe? I doubt it.,p> Can you support the introduction of hazard triggers for active substances provided the approach is proportionate?
Hazard triggers will probably be as ineffective as the Ames test because it is all too easy for the licensing authorities to ignore test failures – as has already been the case in some current pesticides.

Can you support the introduction of comparative assessment and substitution of products provided the rules are clear and the approach is proportionate?
I am not sure that comparative assessments will accurately reflect risk because slight changes in formulation can have serious effects on the toxicity of the product and these could easily be missed.

Do you have any comments on the provision that users may have to inform neighbours before a product is applied?
The Government’s response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s Report on ‘Crop spraying and the health of residents and bystanders’, and the conclusions made, were based on the false premise that the entire problem is due to the “perception of risk”.
I can assure them that I had no fear of pesticide applications at all before I was poisoned. I had no reason to believe that any chemical posed a risk to my health. However, since I was poisoned, my family is fearful of the induced effects on my body by local spraying operations. Some have no effect but it is impossible to tell which pesticides will trigger effects. Some are obvious but with others it is the co-formulants that trigger symptoms, often at some distance from the application site. Unfortunately because farmers do not understand the true nature of the products they use they are not interested in any dialogue with residents and offer no warnings.
This is wrong and those of us who are diagnosed sufferers should automatically be informed at no cost to us whenever pesticides are to be sprayed near our homes. In addition 25 metres might or might not be sufficient for sulphuric acid, for which the main risk is burns, but for other chemicals this distance is totally inadequate. One sufferer I knew before he died of “mysterious causes” last year was able to trace the source of pesticide applications that were affecting his health to 11 miles away from his home. This may be unusual but it is a measure of the problem with some of the more dangerous substances used in pesticides. I am certain that the users of pesticides should warn those who are vulnerable to pesticide use whenever pesticides are used near their homes. Since I was poisoned my specialists and my GPs have noticed that my condition deteriorates when pesticides are used near my home. This is documented and was reported to the Royal Commission by my GP and myself. In my experience it is not possible to know which pesticides will have that effect. Some do not, but this may be related to the co-formulants or some aspect of a mixture as much as it is to any so-called active ingredient. Given that travelling is difficult for me because we can encounter triggering agents en route I would prefer it if no pesticides were used near my home but a warning would at least give the opportunity to take preventative action such as closing windows, bringing in washing, and preparing air filtration systems.

Do you have any comments on the proposal to abolish provisional authorisations for active substances?
The Crop Protection industry may well favour rapid authorisation for new products but surely this has the potential to permit improperly tested chemicals to enter the market place – increasing risk and endangering both public health and the environment. Serious delayed effects could be missed.,p> Can you support the simplified provisions on data protection and data sharing?
How can simplifying the system enhance safety?
We already have so-called “experts” repeating parrot-fashion the claims made in the data for pesticides without ever checking to see if that data is accurate or seriously flawed. Even when evidence of serious data flaws is provided no action is taken to ensure that the database is corrected. Simplification and the refusal to re-check results are a recipe for disaster.

The legislation should cover all stages of a pesticides ‘life-cycle’ including pre-use authorisation, use and disposal, through to monitoring residues in foodstuffs and the environment but it should be careful to include a checking system to ensure that information provided is accurate and reliable. Many of the current problems would not be occurring had the data that is now relied upon been independently checked and verified instead of being taken on trust. As mentioned earlier, in the UK we have had regulations in all these areas for many years but safety and health standards are undermined by lack of enforcement.

It is stated “Pesticides in general are inherently toxic and they are already tightly regulated.”
Unfortunately although regulations are in place their enforcement is poor and numerous investigating bodies have reported the inevitable problems resulting from that failure.
Simply repeating that pesticides are highly regulated without proper enforcement does nothing for safety in the real world. Nor am I sure that a system of zonal authorisations will allow for sufficient safety margins that allow for the varied climatic, soil and population density factors that should be accounted for in safety considerations for chemicals that are applied to food and near homes, hospitals and schools etc.
As is often repeated in the consultation documents “Pesticides in general are inherently toxic” and yet despite the serious risks there are persistent calls to avoid “a disproportionate impact” on the industry.
Surely it is time that those who claim that all pesticides are safe and that all users abide by the rules are silenced so that the public can be told the whole truth and standards can be raised across the board.

Yours sincerely,

Dated 04/12/2006    Updated 20/02/2016

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