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Pesticide authorization in the EU—environment unprotected?

Abstract

Pesticides constitute an integral part of high-intensity European agriculture. Prior to their authorization, a highly elaborated environmental risk assessment is mandatory according to EU pesticide legislation, i.e., Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009. However, no field data-based evaluation of the risk assessment outcome, i.e., the regulatory acceptable concentrations (RACs), and therefore of the overall protectiveness of EU pesticide regulations exists. We conducted here a comprehensive meta-analysis using peer-reviewed literature on agricultural insecticide concentrations in EU surface waters and evaluated associated risks using the RACs derived from official European pesticide registration documents. As a result, 44.7 % of the 1566 cases of measured insecticide concentrations (MICs) in EU surface waters exceeded their respective RACs. It follows that current EU pesticide regulations do not protect the aquatic environment and that insecticides threaten aquatic biodiversity. RAC exceedances were significantly higher for insecticides authorized using conservative tier-I RACs and for more recently developed insecticide classes, i.e., pyrethroids. In addition, we identified higher risks, e.g., for smaller surface waters that are specifically considered in the regulatory risk assessment schemes. We illustrate the shortcomings of the EU regulatory risk assessment using two case studies that contextualize the respective risk assessment outcomes to field exposure. Overall, our meta-analysis challenges the field relevance and protectiveness of the regulatory environmental risk assessment conducted for pesticide authorization in the EU and indicates that critical revisions of related pesticide regulations and effective mitigation measures are urgently needed to substantially reduce the environmental risks arising from agricultural insecticide use.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Walter H. Schreiber and Ralf B. Schäfer for their statistical advice and Jörg Rapp and Caroline Nägele for their support with Fig. S1. We are grateful to Jörn Wogram and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the manuscript. We thank David Imo, Niklas Keck, Bonny Krell, and Koffi Tassou for translating the foreign-language studies. This study was funded by the German Society for the Advancement of Sciences (DFG SCHU 2271/6-1).

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Sebastian Stehle.

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Stehle, S., Schulz, R. Pesticide authorization in the EU—environment unprotected?. Environ Sci Pollut Res 22, 19632–19647 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-015-5148-5

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Keywords

  • Pesticide
  • Surface water
  • Europe
  • Risk assessment
  • Regulation (EC) No. 1107/2009
  • Regulatory acceptable concentration
  • Meta-analysis