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Spring is in the air - and so are pesticides...

A monthly update for the health and environment community in Europe

Spring is in the air - and so are pesticides...

Now that the weather is warming up, we are all spending more time outside - walking and taking the children to public playgrounds. Unfortunately, many of us are worried about the regular pesticide spraying that takes place in parks, public gardens, schools and even on pavements to stop the weeds growing in the cracks between paving stones.

The results of our recent poll in the UK shows that 48% of those interviewed believe that pesticide use in parks, sports grounds and playgrounds may pose a risk to people’s health, and 65% support a ban or reduction in the use of pesticides in public places as soon as possible (read our press release-link). In France, public sentiment is even more determinedly anti-pesticide use. In a poll there, 95% of respondents said they would welcome a 50% reduction in all pesticide use and 80% would want pesticide-free parks (read our press release).

These concerns are backed up by the scientific evidence. The UK Pesticides Action Network (PAN) has produced a "List of lists" showing how different pesticides are defined in terms of toxicity, and has a special section on pesticides and cancer. In 1993, it listed 70 possible carcinogens – now the list has grown to over 240.

Health authorities are also taking health concerns about pesticides seriously, and in some countries like France, are proactively linking national cancer plans with reduced exposure to carcinogens, including pesticides. HEAL welcomes this emphasis on prevention, and hopes that the European Commission will include environmental factors within its work on a European Cancer platform in 2009.

Our Sick of Pesticides’ campaign activities in France have been particularly successful. A printed postcard calling for the protection of children’s health through the creation of pesticide-free cities has been distributed to thousands of individuals throughout France. They, in turn, send them to their local authority asking for a ban. Several major cities, such as Rennes and Grenoble, are already taking action on reducing pesticides. Paris has announced its commitment to reducing pesticide spraying, and many public parks are already pesticides free.

The medical and scientific community is also speaking up on cancer and pesticides. ASEF, a French association of doctors recently held a conference on environment and health in Aix en Provence attracting around 1,000 participants, and several EU funded scientific networks are organising a similar one in Italy (see ECNIS website).

But will these concerns translate into real public health advances and reduced exposure to pesticides, and consequently less ill health? At the national level, EU member states are currently drafting National Action Plans on pesticides, and this is where the real difference to health will take place, and where more public interest involvement is crucial. HEAL hopes to influence the process by promoting our campaign messages (see our campaign asks).

Coming soon in our work on pesticides is a new activity with people whose health has been affected by pesticides. Starting in France, this work will contribute to our objective of bringing citizens’ environmental health concerns to national and European policy making.

Last updated on 1 July 2011

About HEAL

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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HEAL has over 65 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
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Phone: +32 2 234 3640
Fax: +32 2 234 3649
E-mail: info@env-health.org
Press: Diana Smith

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