Pesticide drift mitigation measures appear to reduce contamination of non-agricultural areas, but hazards to humans and the environment remain


Pesticide drift onto non-agricultural land is a common problem in intensively farmed regions, and national action plans have been established across Europe to prevent it. Here, we analyzed official data on pesticide residues in grass samples collected over six years to determine whether implemented measures to reduce pesticide drift were effective. We used 306 samples collected between 2014 and 2020 on non-agricultural land in one of the most intensively managed apple and wine growing regions in Europe, the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-South Tyrol, Italy. Samples were analyzed for up to 314 substances by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Percentage of sites with multiple pesticides and number of pesticides decreased between 2014 and 2020. Fungicides were most often detected, with fluazinam found on 74 % and captan on 60 % of the contaminated sites (53 sites out of a total of 88 sites were contaminated). The most frequently found insecticide, phosmet, was detected in 49 % of the contaminated sites. Only one herbicide, oxadiazon, was detected in <1 % of the sites; glyphosate was not analyzed. The percentage of residues with human hazard properties increased significantly across years regarding reproductive toxicity (from 21 % of the detected substances in 2014 to 88 % in 2020) and specific target organ toxicity (0 % in 2014 to 21 % in 2020). Percentages of substances associated with endocrine-disruption (89 % of substances across years) or carcinogenic properties (45 % of substances across years) remained constant. The percentage of sites where concentrations in grass samples exceeded the surrogate maximum residue levels (MRLs) for lettuce also remained constant. Potential ecotoxicological hazards of detected residues regarding acute contact toxicity to honeybees remained high over the study years, while the acute and chronic toxicity to earthworms decreased. Our results suggest that while drift mitigation measures contributed some reduction in pesticide contamination, they were not sufficient to eliminate substantial risks to human health and the environment in nontarget areas.


Read the full paper here: