New tools for assessing pesticide risk
With over two million tonnes of pesticides produced annually worldwide containing 900 active ingredients, keeping check on the potential risks to human health and the environment is a monumental task. But one European project, called GIMMI, is helping risk assessors by improving accessibility to data on the many products and applications of these chemicals.
Pesticides – chemical products used to control pests and other harmful organisms – play an important economic role in agiculture, but they also raise concern about human health and environmental risks. The problem is finding a uniform way to assess the risk is not easy because of incompatible databases, varying types and quality of data, and the fact that different bodies maintain the data across Europe.
|Pesticides keep insects and other pests from destroying vulnerable seedlings, but measures should be taken to ensure they are used in a sustainable and responsible way.|
Partners in the EU’s GIMMI (Geographical Information and Mathematical Model Interoperability) project, funded under the Informaiton Society Technologies (IST) programme, aimed to find ways to overcome such data inconsistencies and to develop a way of making it more widely available.
According to the Commission’s Environment DG, pesticides contain one or more biologically active substances that have a controlling effect on the unwanted organisms. “Unfortunately, these substances are often also harmful to non-target organisms,” their website explains. In many countries, pesticides have been subject to strict control for years and specific assessment and approval schemes have been set up to prevent unacceptable effects on human health and the environment, ensuring that products are effective and suitable for their purpose, it continues.
Carrying out pesticide impact assessment involves several actors, including data collectors in different fields (i.e. soil testing, meteorology, agronomy); scientists who analyse the data; and government bodies, public administrations and the pesticide manufacturing industry which use the data.
Making data work for you
According to IST Results, the project has developed a web and WAP-interfaced geographical information system (GIS) which makes agronomic data available to users – other than data sources – across Europe. By using the GIMMI website, a public administration in the UK, for example, can gain access to soil sample data maintained by one of the regional governments in Italy.
GIMMI’s system was put to the test recently in three regions – Lombardy (IT), Catalonia (ES) and in the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador – with distinct climates, soil types and crops. Using mathematical models applied to GIS-based analysis, GIMMI’s tools coped very well with the different databases involved, requiring no structural modifications.
Project coordinator Matteo Villa of TXT e-Solutions in Milan (IT) told IST Results that their team overcame the problems of sharing inconsistent and poorly structured data, which improved its interoperability. Now public data providers only need to maintain their data without worrying about how to extract the information, he said.
The Lombardy regional agency for agricultural development (ERSAL), a project partner, is putting the system through its paces. “EU legislation now requires much more use of impact assessments before new agronomical practices are put into place,” Villa is quoted as saying. Using GIMMI’s tools, Lombardy is the first region in Italy capable of meeting this legislation. “Other regions are likely to follow the Lombardy example,” he confirmed.
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