A haze of pesticides over the land

There is a haze of pesticides all over our rural areas. They spread into people's gardens, houses, playgrounds and even nature reserves. This alarming finding is shown by a one-year measurement by the Dutch citizens network Meten = Weten in cooperation with PAN Netherlands. It adds to evidence from other countries. Recently we saw in a combined German - Austrian - Italian research in South Tyrol that the airborne spread of pesticides is seriously underestimated. They do not remain in the apple orchards in the Alpine valleys, they spread to houses, playgrounds and significant amounts even go up the mountain to nature reserves that should be protected. The EU SPRINT research project already showed that pesticides accumulate in house dust, with the highest levels in the houses of conventional farmers. Urgent action needs to be taken to protect humans and nature against this unhealthy and unnecessary exposure. As the authors of the Dutch report conclude: “The time of 'talking tables' is over, the wheel must change. Not in a few years, but now!”

In the ‘Schone Sier’ project, Meten=Weten investigated for a full year the presence of pesticides in air and vegetation close to cultivated flower fields. The measurements were done with seven stations in both Natura 2000 areas and near residential areas. The name of the project refers to the false clean and nice appearance of toxic flowers and ornamental plant cultivation. The quotes below are from the report.

“The results show that there is not only a blanket of poison, but even a haze of pesticides hanging over the country. Pesticides do not stay in the field. The pesticides evaporate, adhere to fine dust particles and blow away. Day and night, people are exposed to chemicals from agriculture. Everything that lives breathes them in constantly.”

Meten=Weten has collected hundreds of samples of soil, crop, manure and air over its five years of their existence. Two years ago, they already wrote an evaluation report in which 86 measurements were brought into a bigger picture from a helicopter view. It confirmed the well-known quote by Wageningen University professor Frank Berendse: “There is a blanket of poison over Dutch farmland.” Indeed, they found pesticides everywhere. Not just on farmland but deep in nature. Their credo became: ‘There really is a blanket of agricultural poison over our country’.

“Scientists are sounding the alarm about an impending Parkinson's pandemic and the disastrous decline of insects like hoverflies and bees. Fortunately, they are no longer voices in the desert. Because it seems something is starting to tilt. Courageous neighbours of lily fields increasingly take matters to civil courts. There is more media attention than ever on the risks of pesticides and a majority in the Dutch parliament recently passed a motion stating that the health of humans, animals and their living environment should be central to plant protection product policy.”

“Yet none of this has yet led to policy change. Economic interests of the agricultural sector continuously continue to outweigh health and the environment. There is plenty of spraying right next to natural areas and places where people live, work and recreate. Sixty-two years ago, Rachel Carson warned the world of a Dead Spring. It is now June 2024. Spring is not yet dead, but it is sick, perhaps deathly sick. Our ground and surface water, soil, forests and air are polluted, there are fewer insects and birds, people are getting sick. The time of 'talking tables' and goat trails is over, the wheel has to change. Not in a few years, but now!”

The pesticides found: volatile Prosulfocarb, toxic 12 Pendimethalin and Parkinson Pesticide Folpet

In this study, air filters (with polyurethane and polyester filters) were placed at 7 locations: 4 in Drenthe and 3 in the Veluwe. Most of them are at a height of 180 cm above ground level. Five of the sites were in or near Natura 2000 areas. The remaining two were on the outskirts of a village next to fields. The air filters collected the presence of pesticides in the air. At the same locations, oak tree leaves were also tested for the presence of pesticides. Over a period of more than a year, samples were collected every six weeks at the 7 sites. 

A total of 70 different pesticides were found in 64 air filters and 53 different pesticides in 39 oak leaf samples. Together, 77 different substances were found in air filters and oak leaves. Throughout the Natura 2000 sites too, the herbicide glyphosate and its transformation product AMPA were found in the air. Eight pesticides together in both air filters and oak leaves accounted for more than 75% of the total concentration of substances found. 

The amount of pesticides found in the filters ranged from 37.8 to 1945.1 microgrammes of active substance per kg of dry matter (filter), with an average of 230 microgrammes per kg. The most common substances were prosulfocarb, pendimethalin and phthalimide, a degradation product of folpet. 

Moreover, pesticides have been found frequently on plants (specifically: oak trees). Almost all pesticides are highly reactive substances with a strong interaction with biological processes, which is, after all, their purpose. Their effects on plants and ecosystems are not known and are not investigated by the authorisation bodies and the government. The little independent research that does exist gives clear indications that even low concentrations can already have a major impact on butterfly development, for example. There are no standards in the Netherlands for safe levels of pesticides in air, soil and plants.

The substances found were evaluated using the Pesticides Properties Database. Of the 65 pesticides evaluated, 26% are neurotoxic or possibly neurotoxic, 77% have possible effects on development and/or reproduction, 31% have possible endocrine-disrupting properties and 42% are possibly carcinogenic. All agents found have potentially toxic properties for humans. No information is available on the effects of pesticide cocktails on the health of residents and users. 

When pesticides are authorised, neurotoxic effects on humans are hardly investigated. However, there is increasing evidence from independent studies, that pesticide exposure can be linked to neurodegenerative disorders.

Ban volatile and very toxic pesticides now and create large buffer strips

The results prove that much better protection is needed. This includes much larger buffer zones around fields where toxic chemicals are applied. The first step should be a direct ban on the most volatile pesticides like Prosulfocarb, Pendimethalin and Folpet. They are currently discussed at EU level, so here is an opportunity to swiftly end the use of these highly problematic pesticides.


The authorisation of this ‘toxic 12’ herbicide expires in November this year. It is authorised in 26 EU Member States. EFSA data confirm that it meets the criteria for Persistence (P), Bioaccumulation (B) and Toxicity (T) and must be banned on that ground. Pendimethalin is suspected of damaging fertility (toxic for reproduction category 2), has harmful environmental effects as it is classified as very toxic to aquatic life. However, the EU Commission has delayed the process by requesting EFSA to organise a peer review on the bioaccumulation potential based on the industry data. Prolongations are expected due to the slowness of our authorities to protect us.


The fungicide Folpet is widely used in conventional fruit production and in bulb growing. EFSA recently concluded that Folpet presents no critical areas of concern. This prepares the path for its renewal. However, Folpet is identified as a Parkinson's pesticide by US researchers. Researchers have identified 10 pesticides toxic to neurons involved in Parkinson’s. The EFSA completely fails to address this issue with the necessary urgency, as was highlighted in our article on the failing neurotoxicity assessment of pesticides.


For over 10 years there have been complaints about this very volatile herbicide. It was the most found pesticide in people's hair (9,3% of all samples) in a 2022 test by the Good Food Good Farming coalition. The official authorisation expired nine years ago. Instead of undergoing a periodic re-evaluation, it was prolonged every year and recently received another 1-year prolongation from the EU. This has been challenged by our member Générations Futures, who asked for an internal review by the Commission. The Commission refused to do this on formal grounds. However, the new information should convince the EU to reverse the renewal and ban the substance as soon as possible.

Schone Sier report by Meten=Weten (in Dutch)

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Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, LIFE programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.