According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 4 million tons of pesticides were used in 2017 globally.
Pesticides are ubiquitous in our daily environment: the air we breathe, the food and water we consume, and the treatment of pets and materials.
Pesticides present a proven health risk.
Therefore, the assessment of human exposure to pesticides is a matter of concern for health authorities and individuals.
What are pesticides?
The etymology of pesticide comes from the Latin words "Pestis" which means a plague and "Caedere" to kill.
The terms phytosanitary products, phytopharmaceutical products or plant protection products are also used.
Derived from chemical weapons, pesticides include a large number of substances used to destroy, control or repel living species considered undesirable: insects (insecticides), plants (herbicides), fungi (fungicides), rodents (rodenticides), worms (nematocide), mollusks (molluscicide), bacteria (bactericide).
There are more than 400 pesticide active substances. They are mainly used for crop treatment, veterinary uses, domestic uses and human hygiene.
What are the different types of pesticides?
Pesticides are also classified according to their chemical family: organochlorine (DDT, lindane ...), organophosphorus (malathion, chlorpyrifos ...), pyrethroids (permethrin, deltamethrin. ...), carbamate and dithiocarbamates (methomyl, carbofuran, mancozene, thiram ...), triazine (atrazine, simazine ...), phenoxy acids (2,4-D, MCPA ...), aminophosphonate (glyphosate, glufosinate ...).
What are the health effects of pesticides?
Scientific research on the effects of exposure to pesticides show deleterious effects on human health, effects that are different for acute or chronic exposure.
The collective expertise of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) highlight the following pathologies
- Fertility disorders
- Fertility disorders
- Pregnancy disorders
- Child development disorders
- Childhood cancers
- Prostate cancer
- Testicular cancers
- Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system)
- Leukemia (cancer of the bone marrow cells)
- Myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow)
- Hodgkin's disease (cancer of the lymphatic system)
- Cutaneous malignant melanoma (skin cancer)
- Brain tumors
- Parkinson's disease (chronic degenerative neurological disease)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Charcot disease (neurodegenerative disease)
- Alzheimer's disease (neurodegenerative disease)
- Cognitive disorders
- Anxiety and depression disorders
Many pesticides are recognized as carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic, neurotoxic and/or endocrine disruptors.
If the effects of acute exposure are often well identified because of intoxications in the workplace, the effects of chronic exposure are often poorly documented but the results of epidemiological studies show links between chronic exposure to pesticides and health risks.
Why does pesticide exposure present a greater risk for pregnant or breastfeeding women?
Reprotoxic or endocrine disrupting pesticides affect reproductive capacity (miscarriage, difficulty in having a baby, fetal death).
Prenatal exposure to pesticides can have serious effects on embryonic and fetal development because these substances can cross the placental barrier.
Pesticides affect biological and endocrine processes in the body of pregnant women and indirectly affect the health of the unborn child.
Pesticides can also pass into breast milk and affect infants whose bodies are very fragile.
How to evaluate your exposure to pesticides ?
The EXPOZOM Organic analysis kit allows you to assess your exposure to pesticides from a lock of hair.
The analysis of pesticides in the hair is carried out by a certified laboratory and allows on the one hand to identify the pesticides to which the body is exposed and on the other hand to measure the level of exposure.
What are the main sources of domestic exposure to pesticides?
Exposure to pesticides occurs in the course of our everyday life without us even being aware of it.
- Food (According to the European Food Safety Authority, 1 out of 2 foods includes traces of pesticides).
- Drinking water (tap or bottled).
- The treatment of crops which exposes residents to persistent contamination of their homes as a result of the drift of applied products. Air quality monitoring agencies report that outdoor air includes pesticide residues from agricultural uses, even at great distances from application areas.
- Pest control treatments (cockroaches, bed bugs, molds, etc.).
- The use of products against mosquitoes (diffuser, spirals, insecticide bombs ...).
- Treatment of furniture and frames (insecticides and fungicides).
- The treatment of molds (fungicides)
- The use of biocides (pesticides authorized for domestic use).
- Treatment of bedding against dust mites.
- Treatment of gardens and vegetable gardens.
- Lice treatments / hygiene products.
- Treatment of pets with certain products against fleas or ticks.
Among the pesticides to which we are exposed, some have been banned for several decades but because of their persistence in the environment they continue to contaminate the entire ecosystem today, such as lindane or pentachlorophenol which were used in particular for the treatment of carpentry.
Occupational exposure to pesticides
Since the middle of the 20th century, progress in synthetic chemistry has allowed the development of a very large number of pesticides, which have been widely used for crop treatment and veterinary hygiene.
Farmers are the main users of pesticides in the world. They are also the people who are most exposed to them. Exposure occurs mainly during :
- Preparing treatments from highly concentrated formulations.
- Application of treatments on crops.
- Cleaning of treatment equipment.
- Visits to treated plots.
The formulations include the active ingredients of the pesticides as well as various adjuvants such as toxic organic solvents.
EXPOZOM Air allows agricultural professionals to evaluate their exposure to these volatile substances.
Today, seeds can be coated with pesticides and crops treated to improve their preservation during storage (cereals against mold and fungi, potatoes against germination...). Operators are therefore exposed during their handling (purchase, transport and storage).
Contrary to popular belief, the results of studies on treatment frequencies show that fruit growing is the most pesticide-intensive sector, followed by wine growing and then cereal growing.
The following professions are also professionally exposed to pesticides but are not sufficiently informed of the risks linked to their activities:
- Pest control professionals,
- Employees of pesticide manufacturers and distributors,
- Flood and water damage decontamination professionals,
- Professionals in the treatment and transformation of wood (carpenters, joiners, cabinet makers...)
- Gardeners (public and private green spaces),
- The agents of treatment of the roads (public road, railroad network).
Work clothes are most of the time strongly contaminated by pesticides and can be a source of indirect exposure through the contamination of vehicles and homes, if they are worn outside of work.