In a study commissioned by the “Austria suitable for grandchildren” movement, researchers measured 67 pesticides in various concentrations in the air in eastern Austria. “We were surprised how far pesticides spread in the air,” said one of the study authors, Johann Zaller from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (Boku), in a press conference on Monday.
The idea behind the study, which involved scientists from Boku, the Medical University of Vienna and Germany, was basically simple. “We set up air filters in various regions in eastern Austria, collected them after several months and analyzed them for pesticides. We then evaluated the chemicals found in terms of their side effects on the environment and people,” explained Zaller.
The researchers immediately came across 67 pesticides. “The number and concentrations of the pesticides found depended on the agricultural management in the area. But higher temperatures also promoted their spread. From an environmental point of view, this is problematic because many of the substances found were toxic to bees, earthworms or birds,” says Zaller.
Two of the filters were in national parks – and even there ten or even 33 pesticides were found. “The finds in national parks are explosive because national parks are there to protect particularly endangered plants and animals,” said Zaller.
If one evaluates the pesticides found according to their officially known side effects, then about half of the pesticides found were harmful to human health. In addition to irritating the mucous membranes and skin, they can, among other things, disrupt the endocrine system with negative consequences for the ability to reproduce. Last but not least, almost a quarter of the substances detected have carcinogenic potential. “Although the concentrations of pesticides in the air are often very low, even the smallest amounts pose a health risk and can affect well-being and health over a long period of time,” says Hans-Peter Hutter, Department of Environmental Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna and author of the study.
The authors of the study pointed out that the spread of pesticides in the air and the damage they cause to health receive too little attention when the pesticides are approved. “Our study clearly shows that pesticides do not remain at the application site, but are spread over a wide area and can cause damage to the environment and people. Only a switch to 100 percent organic farming can counteract this,” Zaller and Hutter agreed.