Regarding the adverse effects on the environment water, soil and air contamination from leaching, runoff, and spray drift, as well as the detrimental effects on wildlife, fish, plants, and other non-target organisms , many of these effects depend on the toxicity of the pesticide, the measures taken during its application, the dosage applied, the adsorption on soil colloids, the weather conditions prevailing after application, and how long the pesticide persists in the environment.
Therefore, the risk assessment of the impact of pesticides either on human health or on the environment is not an easy and particularly accurate process because of differences in the periods and levels of exposure, the types of pesticides used regarding toxicity and persistence , and the environmental characteristics of the areas where pesticides are usually applied. Also, the number of the criteria used and the method of their implementation to assess the adverse effects of pesticides on human health could affect risk assessment and would possibly affect the characterization of the already approved pesticides and the approval of the new compounds in the near future.
Thus, new tools or techniques with greater reliability than those already existing are needed to predict the potential hazards of pesticides and thus contribute to reduction of the adverse effects on human health and the environment. On the other hand, the implementation of alternative cropping systems that are less dependent on pesticides, the development of new pesticides with novel modes of action and improved safety profiles, and the improvement of the already used pesticide formulations towards safer formulations e.
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In addition, the use of appropriate and well-maintained spraying equipment along with taking all precautions that are required in all stages of pesticide handling could minimize human exposure to pesticides and their potential adverse effects on the environment. Pesticides are widely used in most sectors of the agricultural production to prevent or reduce losses by pests and thus can improve yield as well as quality of the produce, even in terms of cosmetic appeal, which is often important to consumers [ 1 , 2 ]. Pesticides can also improve the nutritional value of food and sometimes its safety [ 3 , 4 ].
There are also many other kinds of benefits that may be attributed to pesticides, but these benefits often go unnoticed by the general public [ 2 , 5 ]. Thus, from this point of view, pesticides can be considered as an economic, labor-saving, and efficient tool of pest management with great popularity in most sectors of the agricultural production.
Despite their popularity and extensive use, pesticides serious concerns about health risks arising from the exposure of farmers when mixing and applying pesticides or working in treated fields and from residues on food and in drinking water for the general population have been raised [ 6 — 10 ]. These activities have caused a number of accidental poisonings, and even the routine use of pesticides can pose major health risks to farmers both in the short and the long run and can degrade the environment. In developing countries, farmers face great risks of exposure due to the use of toxic chemicals that are banned or restricted in other countries, incorrect application techniques, poorly maintained or totally inappropriate spraying equipment, inadequate storage practices, and often the reuse of old pesticide containers for food and water storage [ 11 — 13 ].
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Obviously, exposure to pesticides poses a continuous health hazard, especially in the agricultural working environment. By their very nature most pesticides show a high degree of toxicity because they are designed to kill certain organisms and thus create some risk of harm. Within this context, pesticide use has raised serious concerns not only of potential effects on human health, but also about impacts on wildlife and sensitive ecosystems [ 14 — 16 ].
Often, pesticide applications prove counterproductive because they kill beneficial species such as natural enemies of pests and increase the chances of development of pest resistance to pesticides. Furthermore, many end users have poor knowledge of the risks associated to the use of pesticides, including the essential role of the correct application and the necessary precautions [ 17 — 20 ]. Even farmers who are well aware of the harmful effects of pesticides are sometimes unable to translate this awareness into their practices [ 21 — 24 ].
Although pesticides have been developed to function with reasonable certainty and minimal risk to human health and the environment, the published results are not always in agreement with this fact. Even though the development of toxicity reference levels for pesticides incorporates uncertainty factors that serve to achieve this regulatory standard, in reality, we may never know whether a pesticide is safe under all circumstances, nor can we predict with certainty its performance in hypothetical situations.
Scientific investigation is bound by the tools and the techniques that are available and therefore new developments continually redefine our capabilities. Despite many studies on the fate and toxicity of pesticides, there are research gaps causing uncertainty in the predictions of their long-term health and environmental effects.
On the basis of these contradictory results of the literature, discussions among scientists and the public focused on the real, predicted, and perceived risks that pesticides pose to human health worker exposure during pesticide use and consumer exposure to pesticide residues found in fresh fruit, vegetables and drinking water and the environment water and air contamination, toxic effects on non-target organisms are fully justified [ 5 , 8 , 25 , 26 ]. The purpose of this paper is to present and discuss: 1 basic safety issues related to pesticide registration, 2 common factors affecting exposure to pesticides, and 3 common indicators used for the prediction of the adverse effects of pesticides on human health and the environment as well as their reliability and accuracy in the risk assessment of those adverse effects.
It is worth mentioning that this paper does not focus on the fate of pesticides in the environment or their adverse effects on specific non-target organisms. Pesticide registration is a scientifically-based, legal, and also administrative process, where a wide variety of effects associated with the use of a pesticide product and its potential effect on human health and the environment is assessed [ 27 — 29 ]. The registration is an important step in the management of pesticides as it enables authorities primarily to determine which pesticide products are permitted to be used and for what purposes, and also to exercise control over quality, usage rates, claims, labelling, packaging and advertising of pesticides, thus ensuring that the best interest of end-users as well as the environment are well protected [ 30 ].
In addition, the registration process is restricted to the assumption that pesticides are only used for their intended function and envisages proving that such use does not promote unreasonable effects either on human health or on the environment. Therefore, before any pesticide can be used commercially, several tests are conducted that determine whether a pesticide has any potential to cause adverse effects on humans and wildlife, including endangered species and other non-target organisms, or potential to contaminate surface waters and groundwater from leaching, runoff, and spray drift.
Effects in any non-target species may translate into ecosystem unbalance and food-web disruption that ultimately may affect human health and edible species. Pesticide registration is a complex process and takes considerable time, resources, and expertise on the part of the registration authority, the pesticide manufacturing industry, and various public interest groups.
An expanding series of tests based on improved technology is used to provide precise pesticide residue detections and toxicological assessments in response to public concern. In addition, improved methods for hazard predictions, novel approaches to hazard reduction measures, and incorporation of the broadening scope of relevant scientific knowledge into industry and government policy decisions contribute to changes and improvements in the pesticide registration process. The basic pathway for the registration of a pesticide is: 1 research conducted by the manufacturer prior to its decision to pursue registration; 2 submission of data report by the manufacturer to the registration authority; 3 review of the data by the registration authority; and 4 a decision by the registration authority either to register the pesticide, based on the merits of the submitted data, or to deny registration.
The decisions of the registration authority to register a pesticide hinges on a benefit-to-risk analysis of the required data. Therefore, it is essential that all steps in the registration process are transparent, based on sound and published criteria and guidance documents, with full information shared with the applicant on the outcomes of the various steps in the registration procedure [ 31 ]. Also, the registration authority ensures that each registered pesticide continues to meet the highest standards of safety to protect human health and the environment as these standards are becoming stricter over the years with regard to our ability to evaluate the potential effects of pesticides.
Within this context, older pesticides are being reviewed to ensure that they meet current scientific and regulatory standards. This process, called re-registration, considers the human health and ecological effects of pesticides and results in actions to reduce risks that are of concern. Also, EPA in USA has completed several individual pesticide re-registration and tolerance reassessment decisions the results of reviews are summarized in Re-registration Eligibility Decision documents , which improved food safety, human health and environmental protection in the United States [ 29 ].
The registration process for a pesticide usually requires the manufacturer registrant to conduct, analyze, and pay for many different scientific tests. These tests define the product chemistry, risks to humans and domestic animals, the environmental fate of the pesticide, and the impact on non-target organisms [ 30 , 31 ]. Data required to support an application of a registration should cover all relevant aspects of the product during its full life-cycle. They should include the identity and physical and chemical properties of the active ingredient and formulated product, analytical methods, human and environmental toxicity, proposed label and uses, safety data sheets, efficacy for the intended use as well as residues resulting from the use of the pesticide product, container management, and waste product disposal.
Generation of such data for a single compound may take several years and costs a great amount of money. Also, toxicological testing is conducted under stringent guidelines, approved methodologies, and specified reporting requirements. Exacting standards are necessary for consistency in the evaluations of pesticide safety and also for the comparisons among chemicals. Ecological risk assessments to determine what risks are posed by a pesticide and whether changes to the proposed use s of the product are necessary to protect human health, wildlife, and the environment.
To evaluate the environmental risks of a pesticide product, scientists of the registration authority look at all the data together. If the risk assessment indicates a high likelihood of hazard to wildlife or any phytotoxicity to non-target plants, the registration authority may require additional testing and extra data or require that the pesticide be applied only by certified individuals i.
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Alternatively, the registration authority may decide not to allow its use. Human exposure to pesticides may occur through occupational exposure in the case of agricultural workers in open fields and greenhouses, workers in the pesticide industry, and exterminators of house pests [ 6 — 10 , 33 — 35 ].
However, irrespective of whether the occupation involves the use of pesticides, the presence of such chemicals in the working environment constitutes potential occupational exposure. Evidently, workers who mix, load, transport and apply formulated pesticides are normally considered to be the group that will receive the greatest exposure because of the nature of their work and are therefore at highest risk for possible acute intoxications [ 36 ].
In some situations, exposure to pesticides can occur from accidental spills of chemicals, leakages, or faulty spraying equipment. The exposure of workers increases in the case of not paying attention to the instructions on how to use the pesticides and particularly when they ignore basic safety guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment and fundamental sanitation practices such as washing hands after pesticide handling or before eating.
Several factors can affect exposure during pesticide handling [ 36 ]. The form of formulation of pesticide products may affect the extent of exposure. Liquids are prone to splashing and occasionally spillage, resulting in direct skin contact or indirect skin contact through clothing contamination.
Solids may generate dust while being loaded into the application equipment, resulting in exposure to the face and the eyes and also respiratory hazards. The type of packaging of pesticide products can also affect potential exposure. For example, the opening of pesticide bags can result in some kind of exposure depending on the type of packaging in combination with the formulation of the active ingredient. Also, the size of cans, bottles, or other liquid containers may affect the potential for spillage and splashing. Moreover, adjuvant chemicals used in pesticide formulations to enhance their efficiency in terms of biological activity e.
Weather conditions at the time of application, such as air temperature and humidity, may affect the chemical volatility of the product, the perspiration rate of the human body, and the use of personal protective equipment by the users [ 36 , 38 — 40 ]. Wind increases considerably spray drift and resultant exposure to the applicator.
The amount of pesticide that is lost from the target area and the distance the pesticide moves will increase as wind velocity increases, so greater wind speed generally will cause more drift. In addition, low relative humidity and high temperature will cause more rapid evaporation of spray droplets between the spray nozzle and the target than high relative humidity and low temperature. General hygiene behaviour of workers during pesticide use can also have substantial impact on exposure. For example, workers who avoid mixing and spraying during windy conditions can reduce the exposure.
Proper use and maintenance of protective clothing are considered important behaviours associated with reduced chemical exposures. Furthermore, the frequency and duration of pesticide handling both on a seasonal and lifetime basis affects the exposure.
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In particular, the exposure of an individual farmer that applies a pesticide once a year is lower than that of a commercial applicator that normally applies a pesticide for many consecutive days or weeks in a season [ 36 ]. Exposure of the general population to pesticides occurs mainly through eating food and drinking water contaminated with pesticides, whereas substantial exposure to pesticides can also occur when living close to a workplace that uses pesticides or even when workers bring home contaminated articles [ 41 , 42 ].
Non-occupational exposure originating from pesticide residues in food, air and drinking water generally involves low doses and is chronic or semi-chronic. However, clear links between individual pesticides and individual health effects can only be shown in animal studies, but the doses used in these studies are far higher than the enforced legally pesticide limits [ 43 ].
Therefore, the risk to human health from these studies appears to be negligible.
The actual acute exposure, however, may be higher than that anticipated due to certain food preferences, residue variability between individual food items and the greater than average consumption of a particular food item only at one sitting [ 44 ]. As a result of pesticide use in or around the home, individuals can be exposed during the preparation and application of pesticides or even after the applications are completed, whereas delayed exposure can occur through inhalation of residual air concentrations or exposure to residues found on surfaces, clothing, bedding, food, dust, discarded pesticide containers, or application equipment [ 41 ].
Also, accidental poisoning with pesticides in the home is a possibility from pesticide use around the house or garden. Exposure is likely to occur from pesticide spills, improper use, or poor storage as a result of use without reading or accounting to the pesticide label. Pesticide mishandling such as transferring the products from their original packages into household containers and also the lack of compliance with instructions of the label can be also sources of exposure [ 42 ]. Risk assessment of pesticide impact on human health is not an easy and particularly accurate process because of differences in the periods and the levels of exposure, type of pesticides regarding toxicity , mixtures or cocktails used in the field, and the geographic and meteorological characteristics of the agricultural areas where pesticides are applied [ 45 , 46 ].
Such differences refer mainly to the people who prepare the mixtures in the field, the pesticide sprayers, and also the population that lives near the sprayed areas, pesticide storage facilities, greenhouses, or open fields.