More exposure to pesticides around Dutch bulb fields than expected: study

The spraying of agricultural poison on the Dutch bulb fields exposes many more local residents to much higher concentrations of these pesticides for much longer periods than was expected, according to a scientific study by research committee pesticides and residents OBO. These pesticides are found in the diapers of babies who live 250 meters away from the bulb fields, television program Zembla, which has the research report in its possession, reports.

This study was launched at the recommendation of the Dutch Health Council in 2014, after Zembla reported about the use of pesticides and the risks for local residents in 2011 and 2013. The OBO was established by public health institute RIVM and consists of experts from various Dutch universities and research institutes.

"The most important conclusion of the research is that we found high concentrations of pesticides in the air and house dust of local residents within 250 meters, compared to controls that live further away", research leader Roel Vermeulen of Utrecht University said to Zembla. This is the first time such a study has been done, and therefore also the first time it has been conclusively proven that pesticides do not remain on the bulb fields after spraying.

The researchers found that the concentrations of pesticides in the air were 10 times higher at the homes of people who live around bulb fields than in the homes of the control group, who live further away. The dust in the doormats and vacuum cleaners of people who live around bulb fields contained on average 5 times more pesticides than the control group. For a few pesticides the concentrations were 100 times higher. Within 50 meters of places where agricultural poison is used, the measured concentrations of pesticides in the air, the house dust and urine of local residents are also higher than 250 meters away.

"We looked at how pesticides can move from the field to the living environment", Vermeulen said to the program. "The measurements we took show that this movement takes place. You see that because you see an increase among local residents compared to the controls, but you also see a difference in spraying season compared to the non-spraying season."

In the ground near the houses of residents living around bulb fields, the concentrations of a number of pesticides are 5 to 10 times higher than in the ground around houses of the control group. According to the researchers, this could be explained by the slow degradation of the pesticides. It can also, at least partly, explain why the concentrations of pesticides in local residents' house dust are so high - people bring the poisons into their homes on their feet. 

The researchers also found that higher exposure to pesticides does not only occur during the spraying season. Even weeks after spraying season, higher concentrations of pesticides are measured among local residents than among people in the control group. 

The exposure to pesticides affects many people in the Netherlands. In the non-urban areas, with fewer than 1,500 addresses per square kilometer, 5 percent of the population live within 50 meters of a field. A quarter of the rural population live in a radius of 250 meters around a bulb field.

The research did not make clear whether people who live near bulb fields or other agricultural land face an immediate health risk. Further research must be done, Vermeulen said. Particular attention should be paid to small children who crawl on the ground a lot and are therefore at extra risk of increased exposure to toxins. 

Toxicologist Martin van den Berg called the research results very worrying to Nieuwsuur. "If I had children or grandchildren, I would not be happy. With this data I would ask the government to stop the spraying immediately until it is proven that there are no risks for children and pregnant women."

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