Bystanders and pesticides

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Following on from the Sheepdrove blog story on Geogina Downs’ success at the High Court.

The following are a few key statements taken from the High Court Judgment by Mr. Justice Collins:

“The word ‘bystander’ is not on its face entirely appropriate for consideration of the risks to residents, who will be exposed far more regularly than those who happen to be near a field which is being or has recently been sprayed” and in relation to residents that “It is therefore recognised that their exposure must be properly considered and any harm to their health cannot be permitted.”

“All exposure factors must, it is said, be taken into account. It is not enough to consider exposure to the immediate spray [drift] alone. There must be recognition that residents may be exposed to vapours which persist in the air for a considerable time (certainly hours and possibly days, weeks or even longer) and to residues which may, for example, be contained in harvest dust or may have settled in gardens or within houses. Exposure may occur by various routes. These will include inhalation, through the skin, eyes or mouth (for example, if a child plays in a garden and sucks a toy which has been exposed to spray). And such exposure may occur throughout each year over a number of years.”

“It is important to bear in mind that operators and workers are not the only individuals who are exposed to pesticides and, while their protection is of course most important, they can benefit from the use of protective clothing and other measures not available to residents. Some individuals may be particularly vulnerable (for example, the asthmatic, the elderly, children, pregnant women), but they must be protected too.”

“….the fundamental requirement that human health be not harmed must in my view require that the precautionary principle is to be applied so that measures to ensure the protection of all who may be affected by use of the pesticide must be considered.”

“There is in my judgment solid evidence produced by the claimant that residents have suffered harm to their health… It is clear that the precautionary principle must apply.”

“Thus as it seems to me there cannot be compliance with the Directive if such risks [for residents] are not taken into account and measures taken to remove them.”

“I have no doubt for the reasons I have given that the manner in which controls on crop spraying have been applied do not comply with the obligations imposed by the [European] Directive. It is clear and the contrary has not been suggested that the model is by no means perfect. It cannot measure local effects and is not able adequately to assess possible long term effects on health.”

In relation to prior notification for residents Justice Collins stated that, “While recognising the problems created by additional bureaucracy, it is of interest to note that the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986 as amended (in relation to aerial spraying of all pesticides) and the statutory conditions of use (in relation to ground spraying of certain pesticides which are harmful to bees) require that 48 hours notice must be given to beekeepers. There may be many whose bees could be affected. It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position.”

He went on to conclude that, “The need to inform residents of intended spraying and of the composition of the pesticides to be used is I think clear. Voluntary action is not achieving this” and recognised elsewhere in the Judgment that voluntary measures are “totally unenforceable.”

Justice Collins also concluded that there is a very strong case for the introduction of no-spray zones around residential areas.

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