Questions need to be asked about the way authorities ensure pesticides are being applied correctly, according to Malcolm Borg, a deputy director at Mcast’s Institute of Applied Sciences.

Mr Borg was reacting to a Times of Malta report on Thursday that a pesticide linked to potentially irreversible neurological impairments had the highest readings of all Malta’s overused chemicals.

The insecticide, chlorpyrifos, was thrust into the international spotlight in recent days after a group of eight US attorney generals won a last-ditch appeal to ban its use following growing public health concerns.

Mr Borg said it was “quasi-comical” to hear that a chemical was being banned in the US but was being overused in the EU, where stricter controls were meant to apply. Chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide on food crops across the globe has been repeatedly shown to negatively impact the proper development and function of the central nervous system and brain following prenatal exposure. 

A 2014 study by a pesticide awareness group tested whether residential proximity to the agricultural pesticide during pregnancy was associated with autism spectrum disorders and developmental delay. It found that approximately one in three of the mothers who lived, during pregnancy, within 1.5 kilometres of a farm spraying the chemical had an increased risk of bearing a child with some form of autism or developmental disorder. 

Results from pesticide residue samples do not indicate severity of the situation

The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority is the competent authority responsible for monitoring and enforcement of the National Action Plan on Sustainable Use of Pesticides.

In fact, it was the competition authority, also responsible for local pesticide testing, that told the Times of Malta that the chemical had registered the highest readings out of all the chemicals detected for overuse. 

Out of 13 samples found to have excessive levels of the chemical, 12 were locally grown, the MCCAA said.

'Flawed' test - ministry

A spokesman from the Environment Ministry said, meanwhile, that although the chemical was indeed used on the island, the test results were flawed.

He said the MCCAA had applied certain thresholds when testing, which the EU then lowered significantly a few months later.

This, he said, at least partially accounted for the particularly high results on the island.

Mr Borg said results from pesticide residue samples were not an adequate indication of the severity of the situation.

“It is true that farmers do use this pesticide, but any farmer worth his salt knows that there is no use applying pesticides to his crop if the final recipient is his neighbour’s field or, even worse, the adjacent village,” he said.

Despite this, Mr Borg said the national pesticide plan made it clear that spraying during strong wind spells would cause high losses through drift and volatilisation and should therefore be avoided.

When spraying in the vicinity of residential areas, measures to reduce drift, such as slowing down the spraying speed and applying coarser drops, should be taken, he said.

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