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ASSESSMENT OF BELGIAN FLORISTS EXPOSURE TO PESTICIDE RESIDUES

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Pesticides are known to be widely used on flowers to control insects and diseases during cropping. As a result, florists who handle daily a large number of flowers can be exposed to their residues. A study was conducted among Belgian volunteer florists to assess their exposure: sampling of flowers, residue analysis, transfer of residues from flowers to hands and their absorption through the skin after contact. 90 bouquets (roses, gerberas, and chrysanthemums) were collected in Belgium to be analysed. Florists were requested to wear during their professional activities two pairs of cotton gloves during two consecutive half days in order to assess the potential transfer to their hands and the dermal exposure. Finally, during the three most important periods for the sale of flowers in Belgium (Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and All Saints' Day), 84 urine samples were collected from florists and control groups (24-hour urine) to assess the total exposure by measuring the concentrations of pesticides (parent compounds and metabolites). A huge variety of pesticide residues were detected: 107 on bouquets and 111 on the gloves. A total of 70 different pesticide residues and metabolites were identified in urine of florists. A vast majority of pesticide residues identified on cut flowers and on cotton gloves were also found in urine samples. A clear relation was then established between dermal exposure and excretion of pesticide residues in florist urines. Exposure was particularly critical for clofentezine with a maximum systemic exposure value four times higher than the acceptable exposure threshold (393% AOEL). Moreover, clofentezine was detected in urine of florists. In conclusion, the study leads to conclude that Belgian florists are exposed daily to pesticide residues, with potential effects on their health. Therefore, there is an urgent need to raise the awareness about pesticides residues among florists who should adopt better personal hygiene rules and among authorities who could strengthen the controls on imported cut flowers and set safety standards such as Maximum Residue Limits for residues on cut flowers.
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Comm. Appl. Biol. Sci, Ghent University, 83/3, 2018
355
ASSESSMENT OF BELGIAN FLORISTS EXPOSURE TO
PESTICIDE RESIDUES
K.TOUMI1, L.JOLY2, C. VLEMINCKX2 & B. SCHIFFERS1
1Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech/ULiege Pesticide Science Laboratory
Passage des Déportés 2, 5030 Gembloux (Belgium)
2Sciensano, SD Chemical and Physical Health Risks
Rue Juliette Wytsman 14, 1050 Brussels (Belgium)
Corresponding author E-mail: khaoula.toumi@doct.uliege.be
SUMMARY
Pesticides are known to be widely used on flowers to control insects and diseases during
cropping. As a result, florists who handle daily a large number of flowers can be exposed to
their residues. A study was conducted among Belgian volunteer florists to assess their
exposure: sampling of flowers, residue analysis, transfer of residues from flowers to hands
and their absorption through the skin after contact. 90 bouquets (roses, gerberas, and
chrysanthemums) were collected in Belgium to be analysed. Florists were requested to wear
during their professional activities two pairs of cotton gloves during two consecutive half days
in order to assess the potential transfer to their hands and the dermal exposure. Finally, during
the three most important periods for the sale of flowers in Belgium (Valentine's Day, Mother's
Day and All Saints’ Day), 84 urine samples were collected from florists and control groups (24-
hour urine) to assess the total exposure by measuring the concentrations of pesticides (parent
compounds and metabolites). A huge variety of pesticide residues were detected: 107 on
bouquets and 111 on the gloves. A total of 70 different pesticide residues and metabolites
were identified in urine of florists. A vast majority of pesticide residues identified on cut
flowers and on cotton gloves were also found in urine samples. A clear relation was then
established between dermal exposure and excretion of pesticide residues in florist urines.
Exposure was particularly critical for clofentezine with a maximum systemic exposure value
four times higher than the acceptable exposure threshold (393% AOEL). Moreover,
clofentezine was detected in urine of florists. In conclusion, the study leads to conclude that
Belgian florists are exposed daily to pesticide residues, with potential effects on their health.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to raise the awareness about pesticides residues among
florists who should adopt better personal hygiene rules and among authorities who could
strengthen the controls on imported cut flowers and set safety standards such as Maximum
Residue Limits for residues on cut flowers.
Key words: pesticide residues, dermal exposure, biological monitoring, risk assessment, florists
INTRODUCTION
Floriculture has become an important agricultural sector and a worldwide commercial activity.
It has emerged as a lucrative production with a much higher potential for returns compared
to other horticultural crops (Sudhagar, 2013). The flower industry occupies an important place
in both developed and underdeveloped countries, with an annual global trade value of more
than US$100 billion (Riasi and Amiri, 2013). Developed countries with high per capita incomes
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obviously are the major consuming markets which imported millions of flowers produced in
Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya), Asia (India, Malaysia) or Latin America (Ecuador and Colombia). Cut
flowers have a great demand and befit all occasion, therefore they are sold throughout the
year with peak periods (Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Mother’s Day, New Year, etc.). Among
continents, European countries accounted for the highest dollar value worth of flower
bouquet exports during 2017 with shipments amounting to $4.9 billion or 56% of the global
total (Word’s Top Export, 2017). With a combination of locally produced flowers and imported
flowers, the Netherlands is a dominant central market for global cut flower trade (CBI, 2016;
Lichtfouse, 2018). As in any intensive culture, pesticides are deemed necessary by the great
majority of flower growers in order to provide high crop yields and to achieve production on
a large scale and good quality for competitive prices on both national and international
markets (Cooper and Dobson, 2007; Bethke and Cloyd, 2009). Unlike other crops which are
harvested for dietary consumption, flowers are usually sprayed at high dosages and with a
wide range of pesticides because of the weakness of local regulations, the lack of
establishment of maximum residue limits (MRL) for flowers and the lack of controls at the
European entry points (Toumi et al., 2016a and 2016b).
No one can deny that pesticides have been proved to be effective during interventions to
prevent possible attacks of pests and diseases. However, despite their popularity and
extensive use, it remains important to remember that pesticides could entail risks for human
health, mainly when people ignore safety precautions. The relation between exposure to
pesticides and possible serious health concerns for exposed floriculturist operators and
workers have frequently been reported and well documented (Restrepo et al., 1990a and
1990b; Fleming et al., 1999; Munnia et al., 1999; Bolognesi, 2003; Lu, 2005; Defar and Ali,
2013; Blanco-Muñozet et al., 2016).
Many pesticide applied to cut flowers are persistant, dislodgeable, fat-solubles and absorbed
through skin contact. In addition, some pesticides may have a rather high volatility and could
be dispersed in the atmosphere of the working area. Consequently, Belgian florists who are in
contact with cut flowers, daily and for several hours, can potentially be exposed to residues
with potential effects on their health (Toumi et al., 2016a).
Therefore, the exposure assessment of Belgian florists to pesticide residues on cut flowers
was deemed necessary to evaluate the potential risk for their health and to be able to
recommend measures and efforts to reduce pesticide exposure through better practices.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
To assess the risk of exposure of Belgian florists to pesticide residues, the study was conducted
in three stages:
Hazard identification and characterization
To assess the average level of contamination, 90 samples of the most sold cut flowers in
Belgium (roses, gerberas and chrysanthemums) were randomly collected in Belgium at the
shop level to be analyzed. Simultaneously, a survey (observations and questionnaire) was
conducted among 25 florists to define their usual working practices, which helps to establish
realistic exposure scenarios.
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Potential dermal exposure (PDE)
In order to evaluate the transfer of these residues to hands, cotton gloves (2 pairs / individual)
were distributed to 20 volunteer florists and worn for two consecutive half-days (from min 2
h to max 3 h/day) during the handling of flowers and preparation of bouquets to estimate
their potential dermal exposure. The pesticide residues in cut flowers and cotton gloves were
determinate through a multi-residue method using gas and liquid chromatography coupled to
tandem mass spectrometry. Analysis were performed in a laboratory holding a BELAC
accreditation to ISO/CEI 17025 for pesticide residues in vegetable products (PRIMORIS,
Technologiepark 2/3, 9052 Zwijnaarde Ghent).
For each active substance (a.s.), a PDE value was calculated as follows (Toumi et al., 2017a,
2018a and 2018b):
PDE (in mg a.s./kg bw per day) = ((CT (mg/kg) × GW (kg)) × 3)/bw (kg)
where CT is the concentration of active substance in the sub-sample during the task duration
of the trial (2 h), GW is the average weight of the cotton gloves samples (57 g ± 0.17 g), 3 is a
correction factor (total task duration value equal to 6 h/day) and bw is the body weight (60
kg). A recent publication mentioned that 60% of the Belgian florists worked between 6 and 7
hours/day (Toumi et al., 2016a). A default body weight (bw) value of 60 kg is used in line with
the recent EFSA Guidance Document to cover a range of professionally exposed adults (EFSA,
2014).
The PDE values were then converted into systemic exposure values (SE) using an appropriate
dermal absorption percentage of 75% (default value) (EFSA, 2012) as follows:
SE (mg / kg bw per day) = PDE (mg / kg bw per day) × 0.75
The risk characterization is obtained as the ratio of the systemic exposure to the reference
threshold value of each active substance, the AOEL (Acceptable Operator Exposure Level; in
mg a.s./kg·bw per day).
Total exposure (biomonitoring)
Human biomonitoring represents realistic exposure and provide evidence of human exposure
to pesticide residues integrating all routes of exposure (oral, dermal and inhalation) and
different sources (feeding, pets, etc.). In order to evaluate the total exposure, urine samples
(28 samples per period) from florists and from a reference group (24-hour urine) were
collected during the three important periods of sales in Belgium (Valentine's Day, Mother's
Day and All SaintsDay).
For urine samples, an analytical multi-residue method has been developed, based on the
analysis results found from cut flowers and dermal exposure, to measure pesticide residues
and their specific metabolites. The residual pesticide excreted in urine samples were identified
and analyzed using liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry and
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according to a validated internal procedure in a Belgian laboratory (SCIENSANO) accredited
ISO/IEC 17025:2017 for chemical residues and contaminants.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Contamination of cut flowers
Cut flowers samples appeared to be heavily contaminated by pesticide residues whatever
their origin (produced in EU or outside EU). A total of 107 different pesticide residues were
detected from all samples, with an average of about 10 pesticide residues per bouquet. The
most severely contaminated bouquet accumulated a total concentration of residues up to 97
mg/kg (Toumi et al., 2016a). Results show that roses are the most contaminated cut flowers,
with an average of 14 substances detected per sample and an average total concentration per
rose sample of 26 mg/kg (Toumi et al., 2016b).
Potential dermal exposure
Exposure scenario
Belgian florists are exposed by three exposure routes that are (1) mainly cutaneous by coming
into manual contact with cut flowers and greens previously treated with pesticides, (2)
respiratory by breathing volatile active substances (e.g. diazinon, etridiazole, fenpropidin,
omethoate, propamocarb, triforine; see table 1), especially because the store of florists
constitutes a very confined environment and secondarily (3) oral route that occurs accidentally
by contact of the mouth with contaminated hands. Especially, bad habits (12% of florists
smoke during handling flowers and preparing bouquets) and lack of observation of hygiene
rules (88% of the florists eat and drink while working) reported during the survey contribute
to increase the risk of exposure of florists to pesticide residues. Behavioral observations of
florists made during the survey show that 96% of the florists wear no special clothing during
their professional tasks and only 20% of them use occasionally latex gloves when preparing
bouquets and handling flowers (Toumi et al., 2016a).
Dermal exposure
A total of 111 different pesticide residues were detected on 20 cotton glove samples, with an
average of 37 pesticide residues per sample and an average total concentration per glove
sample of 22.22 mg/kg (Toumi et al., 2017b). In the worst case, four active substances
(clofentezine, famoxadone, methiocarb, and pyridaben) have values of SEMAX (SE at the
maximum concentrations) exceeding their respective AOEL values. Exposure could be
particularly critical for clofentezine with an SEMAX value four times higher than the AOEL
(393%) (Toumi et al., 2017b). A linear relationship exists between the pesticide residues
present on cut flowers and dermal exposure of florists since about 70% of pesticide residues
were detected on both cut flowers and on gloves worn by florists during their professional
tasks (Table 1).
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Total exposure
The skin protects the body against external aggressions. But, it does not constitute a
watertight barrier since different elements are able to cross it. The skin may be a target or a
preferred entry point for many pesticides, especially for the majority of active substances
detected on flowers and florists ‘hands which can bioaccumulate (table 1). Therefore, several
pesticide residues having an acute and/or chronic toxicity (Table 1), could be absorbed and
pass into the human body and be excreted in the urine. A total of 70 pesticide residues and
metabolites were identified in urines of florists. It could be shown that a linear relationship
existed between dermal exposure and excretion of pesticide residues in urine of florists since
the method used for urine analysis is able to detect residues (pesticides residues and their
specific metabolites) analysed using liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass
spectrometry and previously found on cut flowers and/or on the hands of florists.
Table 1. Physicochemical and toxicological properties of pesticide residues and metabolites detected on
cut flower samples and / or cotton gloves worn by Belgian florists and/or excreted in urines during
handling flowers and preparing bouquets (For flowers and cotton gloves, active substance and its
metabolites were counted as one pesticide residue)
Pesticide residues and
metabolites
Flowers
Gloves
Urines
1Vapour
pressure at
25
o
c (mPa)*
2
Log Kow
(Log P)
*
CLP
2CTCA
X
-
-
3
-hydroxy-carbofuran X
-
-
6
-benzyladenine X
-
-
Acephate
X X
0.226
-0.85
Acetamiprid
X X X
1.73 X 10
-04
0.8
Acetamiprid
-n-
desmethyl
X
-
-
Acrinathrin
X X
4.40 X 10
-05
6.3
Ametoctradin
X X X
2.1 X 10
-07
4.4
Azadirachtin
X X
-
-
Azoxystrobin
X X X
1.10 X 10
-07
2.5
Benalaxyl
X
0.572
3.54
Benomyl
X X
0.005
1.4
Bifenazate
X X
1.33 X 10
-02
3.4
Bifenthrin
X X
0.0178
6.6
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Pesticide residues and
metabolites
Flowers
Gloves
Urines
1Vapour
pressure at
25oc (mPa)*
2
Log Kow
(Log P)
*
CLP
Bitertanol
X X
1.36 X 10
-06
4.1
Boscalid
X X X
0.00072
2.96
Bupirimate
X X X
0.057
3.68
Buprofezin
X X X
0.042
4.93
Captan
X
0.0042
2.5
Carbendazim
X X X
0.09
1.48
Carbofuran
X X
0.08
1.8
Carbosulfan
X
0.0359
7.42
Carboxin
X
0.02
2.3
Chlorantraniliprole
X X X
6.3 X 10
-09
2.86
Chlorfenapyr
X
9.81 X 10
-03
4.83
Chloridazon
X
1.0 X 10
-06
1.19
Chlorothalonil
X X
0.076
2.94
Chlorpyrifos
X X
1.43
4.7
Clofentezine
X X X
1.40 X 10
-03
3.1
Cyflufenamid
X
0.0354
4.7
Cyflumetofen
X X
0.0059
4.3
Cyfluthrin
X
0.0003
6
Cyhalothrin
X X
1.00 X 10
-09
6.8
Cypermethrin
X X
6.78 X 10
-03
5.55
Cyproconazole
X X
0.026
3.09
Cyprodinil
X X X
5.10 X 10
-01
4
Deet
X
-
-
Deltamethrin
X X
0.0000124
4.6
DETP
X
-
-
Diazinon
X
11.97
3.69
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Pesticide residues and
metabolites
Flowers
Gloves
Urines
1Vapour
pressure at
25oc (mPa)*
2
Log Kow
(Log P)
*
CLP
Dicofol
X X
0.25
4.3
Difenoconazole
X X X
3.33 X 10
-
05
4.36
Diflubenzuron
X X
0.00012
3.89
Dimethoate
X X
0.247
0.75
Dimethomorph
X X X
9.85 X 10
-04
2.68
Dinotefuran
X
X
0.0017
-0.549
Diphenylamine
X
0.852
3.82
Dodemorph
X X
0.48
4.6
DMP
X
-
-
Endosulfan
X
0.83
4.75
Ethirimol
X
0.267
2.3
Etoxazole
X X
0.007
5.52
Etridiazole
X
1430
3.37
Famoxadone
X X X
0.00064
4.65
Fenamidone
X X
0.00034
2.8
Fenamiphos
X
0.067
3.3
Fenamiphos sulfone
X
-
-
Fenarimol
X
0.065
3.69
Fenazaquin
X
1.90 X 10
-02
5.51
Fenhexamid
X X X
4.00 X 10
-04
3.51
Fenoxycarb
X X
8.67 X
10-04
4.07
Fenpropathrin
X
0.76
6.04
Fenpropidin
X
X
17.0
2.6
Fenpyroximate
X X
0.01
5.01
Fensulfothion
-oxon X
-
-
Fenvalerate
X X
0.0192
5.01
Fipronil
X X X
0.002
3.75
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Pesticide residues and
metabolites
Flowers
Gloves
Urines
1Vapour
pressure at
25oc (mPa)*
2
Log Kow
(Log P)
*
CLP
Fipronil sulfone
X
-
-
Flonicamid
X X X
9.43 X 10
-04
-0.24
Fluazinam
X
7.5
4.03
Flubendiamide
X X X
0.1
4.14
Fludioxonil
X X
3.90 X 10
-04
4.12
Flufenoxuron
X X X
6.52 X 10
-09
5.11
Fluopicolide
X X
3.03 X
10-04
2.9
Fluopyram
X X X
1.2 X 10
-03
3.3
Fluoxastrobin
X
5.60 X 10
-07
2.86
Flusilazole
X
0.0387
3.87
Flutolanil
X X
4.10 X 10
-04
3.17
Flutriafol
X X
4.0 X 10
-04
2.3
Fluxapyroxad
X
2.7 X 10
-06
3.13
Forchlorfenuron
X
4.60 X 10
-05
3.3
Fosthiazate
X X
0.56
1.68
Furalaxyl
X
X
0.07
2.7
Hexythiazox
X X X
1.33 X 10
-03
2.67
Imidacloprid
X X X
4.0 X 10
-07
0.57
Indoxacarb
X X X
0.006
4.65
Iprodione
X X
0.0005
3.0
Iprovalicarb
X X
7.90 X 10
-05
3.2
Isocarbophos
X
X
-
2.7
Kresoxim
-methyl X X
2.30 X 10
-03
3.4
Lufenuron
X X
4.00 X 10
-03
5.12
Malathion
X
3.1
2.75
Mandipropamid
X X X
9.40 X 10
-04
3.2
Mepanipyrim
X X
0.0232
3.28
Metalaxyl
X X X
0.75
1.75
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Pesticide residues and
metabolites
Flowers
Gloves
Urines
1Vapour
pressure at
25oc (mPa)*
2
Log Kow
(Log P)
*
CLP
Metalaxyl
-M
3.3
1.71
Methamidophos
X X
2.3
-0.79
Methiocarb
X X X
1.50 X 10
-02
3.18
Methiocarb sulfon
X
-
-
Methiocarb sulfoxid
X
-
-
Methomyl
X
X
0.72
0.09
Methoxyfenozide
X X X
1.33 X 10
-02
3.72
Metrafenone
X X X
0.153
4.3
Myclobutanil
X X
0.198
2.89
Nitrothal
-isopropyl
X
0.01
2.04
Novaluron
X X X
1.60 X 10
-02
4.3
Omethoate
X X
19.0
-0.9
Oxadixyl
X
0.0033
0.65
Oxamyl
X X
0.051
-0.44
Oxycarboxin
X X
5.60 X 10
-03
0.772
Paclobutrazol
X X
0.0019
3.11
Penconazole
X
0.366
3.72
Permethrin
X
0.007
6.1
Picoxystrobin
X X
0.0055
3.6
Piperonyl butoxide
X X X
-
-
Pirimicarb
X X X
0.43
1.7
Pirimicarb desmethyl
X
-
-
Pirimiphos
-methyl
X
2.00 X 10
-03
3.9
Prochloraz
X X X
0.15
3.5
Procymidone
X X
0.023
3.3
Profenofos
X
2.53
1.7
Propamocarb
X X
730
0.84
Propiconazole
X
0.056
3.72
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Pesticide residues and
metabolites
Flowers
Gloves
Urines
1Vapour
pressure at
25oc (mPa)*
2
Log Kow
(Log P)
*
CLP
Propoxur
1.3
0.14
Pymetrozine
X X
4.20 X 10
-03
-0.19
Pyraclostrobin
X X X
2.60 X 10
-05
3.99
Pyridaben
X X X
0.001
6.37
Pyridalyl
X X
6.24 X 10
-
05
8.1
Pyrimethanil
X X X
1.1
2.84
Pyriproxyfen
X
1.33 X 10
-
02
5.37
Quinalphos
X
X
0.346
4.44
Simazine
X
0.00081
2.3
Spinetoram
X X
5.7 X 10
-02
4.2
Spinosad
X X X
-
-
Spirodiclofen
X X
3.00 X
10-04
5.83
Spiromesifen
X
7.00 X 10
-03
4.55
Spirotetramat
X X X
5.6 X 10
-06
2.51
Spirotetramat
-enol X
-
-
Spirotetramat-enol-
glucoside
X
-
-
Spiroxamine
X X X
3.5
2.89
TCPy
X
-
-
Tebuconazole
X X
1.30 X 10
-03
3.7
Tebufenozide
X
1.56 X 10
-04
4.25
Tebufenpyrad
X X
0.0016
4.93
Tetraconazole
X
0.18
3.56
Tetradifon
X
3.20 X 10
-05
4.61
Tetrahydrophtalimide
X
-
-
Tetramethrin
X
2.1
4.6
Thiabendazole
X X X
5.30 X 10
-04
2.39
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Pesticide residues and
metabolites
Flowers
Gloves
Urines
1Vapour
pressure at
25oc (mPa)*
2
Log Kow
(Log P)
*
CLP
Thiacloprid
X X
3.00 X 10
-07
1.26
Thiamethoxam
X X
6.60 X 10
-06
-0.13
Thiodicarb
X
2.7
1.62
-
Thiophanate methyl
X X
9.0 X 10
-03
1.40
H317, H332,
H341
Tolclofos
-methyl X X
0.877
4.56
H317
Triadimenol
X
0.0005
3.18
H302, H360,
H362
Triadimefon
X
0.02
3.18
H302, H317
Trichlorfon
X
0.21
0.43
H302, H317
Trifloxystrobin
X X
3.40 X 10
-03
4.5
Triflumizole
X X
0.191
4.77
Triforine
X
26
2.4
2CTCA: 2-Chloro-1,3-thiazole-5-carboxylic acid : urinary metabolite of thiamethoxam
TCPy: 3,5,6-trichoro-2-pyridinol: urinary metabolite of both chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl
DMP: Dimethylphosphate: urinary metabolite of organophosphates
DETP: Diethylthiophosphate: urinary metabolite of organophosphates
H300: Fatal if swallowed; H301: Toxic if swallowed; H302: Harmful if swallowed; H310: Fatal in contact
with skin; H311: Toxic in contact with skin; H312: Harmful in contact with skin; H314: Causes severe skin
burns and eye damage; H315: Causes skin irritation; H317: May cause an allergic skin reaction; H318:
Causes serious eye damage; H319: Causes serious eye irritation; H330: Fatal if inhaled; H331: Toxic if
inhaled, H332: Harmful if inhaled; H335: May cause respiratory irritation; H336: May cause drowsiness or
dizziness; H340: May cause genetic defects; H341: Suspected of causing genetic defects; H351: Suspected
of causing cancer; H360: May damage fertility or the unborn child; H360D: May damage the unborn child;
H360FD: May damage fertility. May damage the unborn child; H361d: suspected of damaging the unborn
child; H361fd: suspected of damaging fertility. Suspected of damaging the unborn child; H362: May cause
harm to breast-fed children; H372: Causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure;
H373: May cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure
* Classification according The PPDB - Pesticides Properties DataBase
** CLP classification according the EU Pesticides database
1 Vapour pressure at 25oc (mPa) (EFSA, 2014), significance of indicator:
< 5.0 mPa = low volatility,
5.0 10.0 mPa = moderately volatile,
> 10 mPa = highly volatile
2 Octanol-water Partition Coefficient (Log P) (PPDB - Pesticides Properties DataBase, 2018), significance
of indicator:
< 2.7 = Low bioaccumulation
Comm. Appl. Biol. Sci, Ghent University, 83/3, 2018
366
2.7 3 = Moderate
> 3.0 = High
CONCLUSION
The analysis of the best selling cut flowers in Belgium (roses, gerberas and chrysanthemums)
on one hand, and the determination of the potential transfer of residues present on the
flowers to the hands through the analysis of cotton gloves worn by florists during their
professional activities on the other hand, enable to conclude that their potential exposure to
pesticide residues is very important and astounding (different pesticide residues, banned
active substances, and high concentrations). This appears to reflect the extensive use of
different pesticides by growers and might be explained by the susceptibility of cut flowers to
insect attacks, diseases and weeds proliferation, the poor dissemination of alternative
methods and the absence of maximum residue limits that could leads to control at the entry
points.
Subsequently, biological monitoring (biomonitoring by urine analysis of exposed and
unexposed groups) has proven to be an excellent tool for confirming exposure and assessing
a realistic total systemic exposure level. There is a very good correlation between substances
detected on cut flowers, measured on cotton gloves and also found in urine samples,
demonstrating the transfer and absorption of these substances, and therefore the exposure.
The variety and amounts of pesticide residues to which florists are exposed, are very high
compared to workers re-entering greenhouses where edible crops were previously treated
with pesticides. Indeed, flower supply sources are widely diversified: cut flowers are imported
into Belgium from producing countries all over the world where a wide variety of products are
used, often containing active substances no longer approved in Europe and where the GAP
(Good Agricultural Practices) are different.
Florists represent a very vulnerable and not informed category of workers. A lack of
information about the risk of repeated exposure to pesticide residues on cut flowers emerged
during the interviews. Consequently, this is very challenging both for the sector and for the
Belgian authorities (no official recommendations issued to date). This study confirms that
florists should be considered (especially with regard to risk assessment during the marketing
of plant protection products (PPP) for use on flowers) as "workers" (persons who, as part of
their employment, enter an area that has been treated previously with a PPP or who handle
a crop that has been treated with a PPP, EFSA 2014).
In conclusion, the exposure of florists seems to be an example of a single employment status,
at risk for several reasons: florists are regularly exposed to important numbers and
significantly high amounts of pesticide residues. The majority of these pesticide residues have
potentially acute and / or chronic toxicity (Table 1) according CLP classification. As a result,
the combination of all factors can lead to significant long-term negative effects on their health.
Future works (risk assessment considering the oral and inhalation exposure routes, analyse of
greens, cumulative risk assessment, development of a pesticide residue transfer model
applied on cut flowers, assessment of the capabilities of personal protective equipment,
biological monitoring considering other matrices such as hair and blood, epidemiological
studies, etc.) should be done to better document the exposure problem of Belgian florists to
pesticide residues and to recommend mitigation measures to reduce the exposure.
Meanwhile simple and inexpensive rules should be respected: use of appropriate personal
protective equipment, trainings on integrated pest management, setting up of a harmonized
Comm. Appl. Biol. Sci, Ghent University, 83/3, 2018
367
traceability system, stronger quality controls of imported cut flowers (opinion request to
experts to know if it will be helpful to set up a Maximum Residue Limits for cut flowers).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The authors wish to express their thanks for the Pesticide Science Laboratory (Gembloux Agro-
Bio Tech, University of Liege, Belgium), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of
Research and Higher Education of Tunisia for their financial support. Special thanks go to the
Belgian florists and the control group for their kind participation to this study.
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