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Swedish pesticide risk reduction 1981-1995: food residues, health hazard, and reported poisonings.

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National Chemicals Inspectorate, Solna, Sweden.


The Swedish Government has initiated three pesticide risk-reduction programs since the mid-1980s. Risk-reduction achievements have been measured mainly in terms of reduction in quantities sold. In this review, risk-reduction achievements have been described also in terms of pesticide residues in foods, both imported and grown domestically, acute health hazard to the users, and reported poisonings. The time periods selected for comparisons are 1981-1985 (which is the Government's baseline period), 1990-1994 for food residues and poisonings, and 1991-1995 for acute health hazard and quantities sold. The quantity of pesticides as active ingredient (ai) sold for use in agriculture, horticulture, and forestry decreased from a total of 22,800 tons during 1981-1985 to 8450 tons in 1991-1995, a 63% reduction. Published data on pesticide residues in domestically grown fruits and vegetables show that the proportion of cases of reported residues higher than 20% of the maximum residue limit has decreased only slightly, from 6.9% to 6.2%. Residues in imported food crops of the same type increased from 31% to 37%. Overall, the achieved 63% reduction of quantities used may have resulted in only a 10% reduction in number of cases of reported residues. A forthcoming report on pesticide intake via food from the National Food Administration may shed light on any trends in actual residue levels. The degree of goal fulfillment for the pesticide residue monitoring program and for pesticide residue levels in food is difficult to judge because of imprecise goal formulations. An estimate of the potential acute health hazard to the pesticide users, based on quantities and acute toxicity of individual pesticides, indicates that the acute health hazard in terms of "acute toxicity equivalents" decreased by 71%. The number of poisonings caused by acute exposure at the workplace has decreased between 1984 and 1994, whereas the number of mostly harmless incidents at home has increased. The decline in workplace-related accidents and the favorable pattern and low frequency of pesticide poisonings in Sweden compared to many other countries, especially developing countries, is the result of several factors, such as the mandatory training of workers using pesticides professionally, severe restrictions in availability of pesticides for use in households, and withdrawal from the market of the most toxic pesticides. To improve the worrisome global situation, it would seem appropriate that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization pay greater attention to the need for promotion of restrictions on availability of highly toxic and other pesticides, as recommended by FAO and WHO in 1975 (WHO/FAO 1975).

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