The dangers of phytosanitary spreadings

Some definitions to start with…

What is land-spreading?

Widely regulated in France, land-spreading is an agricultural practice that consists of spreading chemical or organic materials of agronomic interest (fertilizers, organic materials, pesticides, etc.) on cultivated areas and agricultural lands (fields, forests, etc.).
A source of concern, land-spreading application is now at the heart of several ecological and health issues, associated with microbiological and chemical hazards.

What does "phytosanitary" mean?

First of all, we think it is important to analyze the word "phytosanitary". From the ancient Greek "φυτόν", phyto- is a prefix used for words related to the plant world. Because of the crisis we have been enduring since 2020, the word "sanitary" (from the Latin sanitas, health) no longer holds any secrets for us: it refers to everything related to hygiene and the preservation of public health.
"Phytosanitary" therefore indicates something related to the preservation of plant health. However, this practice is not without controversy: if phytosanitary products are intended to guarantee the good health of plants, it refers to the idea of chemical products and therefore of dangers for the population.

The use of phytosanitary products

Of natural or chemical origin, phytosanitary products, also known as "phytopharmaceutical products", are mainly used for soil fertilization in order to improve yields. There are several families of phytosanitary products intended to protect plant species including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides (against fungi), molluscicides (against slugs and snails), rodenticides (elimination of rodents).

Phytosanitary products generally work by eliminating or controlling certain pests. Indeed, certain parasites such as "weeds", bacteria or even animals can limit the cultivation of the land and thus affect the yield. Some of these phytos can also present risks for people or animals if the precautions for use are not respected.

How to protect yourself from the spreading of phytosanitary products?

Whether you are a farmer or live near a cultivated area, it is important to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself during spraying and other chemical-based interventions. Among the preventive measures, the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment is necessary. Filtering devices include several categories of products, which ones have their appropriate use:

  • Half-masks as a basic minimum protection. They only cover the lower part of the face (nose and mouth). However, there are two major restrictions on their use: the substances to be filtered must not irritate the eyes, such as chlorine, ammonia or nitric acids. The filter cartridges must not exceed 300 grams, which sometimes limits the combined gas and particle configurations.
  • Full face masks as an intermediate protection. They cover the entire face (nose, mouth and eyes). They are particularly suitable in toxic environments with a potential danger for the mucous membranes of the eyes. With 5 attachment points for fastening the face, they can support filter cartridges weighing more than 300 grams, and are therefore more effective because they have more filtering elements.
  • Powered air purifying respirators are more elaborate filtering respiratory protection devices. Their main advantage is the reduction of the respiratory effort reduced by a motorized ventilator which supplies the filtered air directly into the facepiece (full face mask or bonnet) via a creased hose. This type of device is therefore preferred for strenuous, tiring and long-term work.

For effective respiratory protection and depending on the type of plant protection product used, an A2-P3 type filter cartridge is preferred in most cases, independently of a half-mask, a full face mask or an assisted ventilation device. In addition to these filtering devices, a chemical protection suit can be very useful.

The dangers of phytosanitary spreading

The use of pesticides has undesirable effects on health and the environment. It can harm all kinds of living beings (plants and animals).
Several studies have shown that certain extremely toxic products could promote certain cancers, impair fertility or even impair the immune or nervous system. Some findings revealed that the contamination was chronic and therefore present all year round, even though the spreading periods start in spring and end in autumn; the same molecules are also found in cities as in rural areas and banned pesticides are always detected in the air. The effects on the environment are a major ecological disaster. The used pesticides decompose into the soil and then contaminate the natural environment. As a result, they represent a major impact factor for animal biodiversity (in the short term, certain organisms are intoxicated).

Agricultural spreading, a controlled activity

The regulations on the spreading of pesticides near homes are being strengthened from year to year. Before any phytosanitary spreading, farmers are obliged to respect a few measures:

The power of the wind

Each farmer should measure the wind strength before starting to spread pesticides. In order to avoid spraying outside the treated area, the average wind speed should be less than 11km/h. Beyond this, it is highly recommended to postpone spraying at the risk of having to pay a fine. A few years ago, a farmer was fined 10,000 euros for spreading pesticides near children’s leisure centers.

Setback distances for land application

Le périmètre des Zones de Non Traitement (ZNT)

Since 2019, the French government has introduced a land application minimum setback distance between neighboring houses and agricultural land. The aim is to provide a minimum safety distance without the application of plant protection products. In other words, the farmer must respect a minimum distance between the residents living near the cultivated area and the spreading zones.

In addition, the French Ministry of Agriculture has announced to strengthen measures on the use of phytopharmaceutical products in the vineyard, which could be applicable next July. To be continued….


Carotte agriculture biologique

According to the WHO, food remains the main source of contamination and exposure to pesticides. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the foods that are richest in pesticides: apples, cherries, strawberries, clementines, etc.
On the other hand, That is why buying fruits and vegetables from organic farming (labelled AB) reduces the risk of contamination. This method of agricultural production excludes the use of chemicals as much as possible and respects the environment: it preserves the soil, the water table and atmospheric pollution.

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