Oregon IPM Insider, Vol 1 Issue 1 March 2020 - Lancet

New paper in Lancet: Planetary Health offers guidelines for pesticides based on health risks

Two OIMPC staff are co-authors on a paper classifying compounds by human and environmental health risks

Imagine looking at a pesticide label, and by accessing one tool be able to know the possible effects of that compound on your health, your neighbor’s health, on wildlife, and even bees. A paper published in The Lancet Planetary Health in February aims to do exactly that by taking on the enormous task of classifying nearly 700 pesticides by their risks to human, animal, and even atmospheric and pollinator health. Selection of pesticides to reduce human and environmental health risks: a global guideline and minimum pesticides list, freely available from The Lancet, Planetary Health and co-authored by Katie Murray and Paul Jepson of the Oregon IPM Center, is a multi-factor health risk guideline for pesticides that are registered in the US or the EU for which risk data exist. The authors go a step further and organize the findings into a handy reference for IPM decision-makers. A 27-page guide, Pesticide risk reduction: an international guideline, is included as an appendix and contains step-by-step instructions for consultants on how to use the list as part of an IPM plan for farmers and other IPM stakeholders. This paper is also an important tool for identifying alternative pesticides that may only require baseline personal protective equipment, a resource that’s been in short supply because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Pesticides are inherently risky to human and environmental health, and some are so toxic that they are classified as highly hazardous. Current criteria for defining highly-hazardous pesticides, or “HHPs” do not consider bystanders, aquatic life, terrestrial wildlife, or pollinators. The authors have filled in these information gaps so that pesticide users can make more informed decisions about which products to use. This is important because pesticides “have been cited as being among the most serious threats to health and the environment” by multiple international groups, according to the paper, and this kind of information had previously been scattered, difficult to access, or unavailable.



How do you classify 659 pesticides in a way that is useful for multiple international audiences and applicable to any cropping system? The authors considered multiple factors that address a wide variety of factors including acute and chronic risks to humans, pesticide accumulation through food chains, ozone depletion in the atmosphere, risks to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, and risks to pollinators. The pesticides were filtered into three groups: “highly-hazardous”, which are tagged for replacement or phase-out, “high-risk”, which require special attention to limit specific environmental or health risks, and “lower-risk”, which includes pesticides that are likely to be compatible with IPM programs. The low-risk classification is further divided to isolate a group of compounds that can be defined as “minimum-risk”, or pesticides that don’t have requirements for specialized personal protective equipment, and which also do not trigger the other risk criteria that the authors included. 

These classifications form the basis for pesticide use by farmers who meet the Rainforest Alliance certification standard worldwide. When consumers buy coffee, tea, chocolate, or a tropical fruit that bears the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” green frog symbol they can be certain that pesticides classified as highly hazardous have not been used. The classifications are also utilized in IPM Strategic Plans for northwest commodities to identify pathways for reducing risks to growers and the environment in seasonal pest management activities.

In light of the recent personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this paper also provides support for IPM decision-making regarding worker protection. Oregon stakeholders, including state agencies involved with pest management, have voiced concerns that PPE for pesticide applications could be in short supply this summer, putting applicators at risk. A table in the paper identifies pesticide active ingredients which, based on the authors’ specific analysis, require only baseline PPE (i.e. chemical-resistant gloves, long sleeve shirt, pants, and sturdy shoes). In response to these concerns, Oregon IPM Center posted the table on their site to give applicators additional information when planning for this upcoming season. It’s important to note that this list is just a starting point, and is supplementary to the pesticide label, which is the primary source for risk management information.

The paper is open-access and available now. A web-based electronic version of the guide is currently in development. 

Link: The Lancet: Planetary Health, Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages e43-e85 (February 2020)


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This article appeared in Oregon IPM Insider, Vol I Iss 1: Spring 2020, and was updated May 15, 2020. Subscribe to the newsletter here.