A High Court judge ruled yesterday that Georgina Downs, who lives in the countryside outside Chichester, West Sussex, had produced “solid evidence” that residents had suffered harm from the chemicals.
Mr Justice Collins said that the Government had failed to comply with its obligations under a European directive to protect rural residents and communities from possible harmful exposure to toxic substances during crop spraying. He called on Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, to review current controls on use of sprays and the way they are assessed in terms of risk to human health.
Ms Downs, who was aged 11 when she first became exposed to pesticide spraying and began to suffer flu-like symptoms, sore throats and blistering, was delighted with the ruling on “one of the biggest public health scandals of our time”. She called on Gordon Brown to intervene and block any appeal.
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“The Government should now just admit that it got it wrong, apologise and actually get on with protecting the health and citizens of this country,” she said.
Miss Downs, 35, had produced evidence showing rural dwellers had reported health problems – including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and asthma – that they believed were linked to sprays. It is possible farmers in future will be compelled to notify neighbours before they use pesticides.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it needed to study the judgment in detail before deciding on further action. A spokesman also confirmed that it may appeal.
The judge, granting Miss Downs’s application for judicial review, said doubts had reasonably been raised as to the safety of pesticides under the current regime.
Miss Downs, who formed the UK Pesticides Campaign in 2001 and was named a “Woman of the Year” last month, accused the Government of failing to address countryside residents “who are repeatedly exposed to mixtures of pesticides throughout every year, and in many cases, like mine, for decades”. She complained that people were not given prior notification about what was to be sprayed near their homes and gardens.
The judge said in his ruling that it was interesting to note that the 1986 Control of Pesticides Regulations stated that bee-keepers must be given 48 hours’ notice if pesticides harmful to bees were to be used. “It is difficult to see why residents should be in a worse position,” he said.
Miss Downs said that the ruling could affect millions of people. “The fact that there has never been any assessment of the risk to health for the long-term exposure for those who live, work or go to school near pesticide-sprayed fields is an absolute scandal, considering that crop-spraying has been a predominant feature of agriculture for more than 50 years.” Times Online