Norfolk villages asked to take part in trials to test exposure levels to pesticides

GOVERNMENT scientists sought to allay fears over pesticides after asking Norfolk villages to take part in trials to test exposure levels.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has asked scientists to carry out tests in Norfolk to measure how much pesticide people living near fields may have been exposed to.

They stressed that the trials, being carried out at five sites in Norfolk, were not a health test.

Dr Karen Galea, who is leading the research, said they had data estimating what humans’ levels of exposure might be to pesticides, but wanted to back this up with data to make sure regulations on pesticides, now in place, were sufficient.

The pesticide used in Hevingham, Chlormequat, is not considered to have health risks when sprayed according to European Union and government guidelines.

Dr Galea refused to name the areas other than Hevingham taking part in the tests. Samples were gathered in East Lothian in 2010, Kent last year and now Norfolk, with results from the study available by 2013.

Scientists want to collect data from villagers in Hevingham, and four other sites in Norfolk, around King’s Lynn and Norwich.

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DEFRA has asked the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) to carry out the tests, and they said no extra chemicals would be sprayed on the fields.

Chlormequat has been tested since the 1970s, but researchers now want to see how much of the chemical people might have absorbed, to back up their predictions with data.

But families living in Hevingham said they felt like “human guinea pigs” after letters came through their door, offering them �5 vouchers to take part in the trials.

Lisa Streeter, 44, who lives in The Heath, Hevingham, said she felt like a “white rabbit in a lab”, after receiving a letter asking her to take part in the tests.

Mrs Streeter, who has lived in the village all her life, said: “When they say they want to do the tests they obviously don’t know enough. Why do this?”

Her husband Mark, 44, said: “We have been here for 23 years and nothing has been done or said before. They spray when they like and suddenly you get this through the door.”

Volunteers are being asked to give urine samples during spraying season, but many are refusing.

Angela Somerfield, whose house backs onto the field, said: “I thought the whole village had got a letter but it is just the people near these fields.

“It made me think, what is the problem? We’ve been here for over 23 years and never been asked to do tests.”

But science teacher, Nigel Roberts, 57, who lives opposite the Streeters said he would take part in the tests because he wanted to know what the pesticide levels were.

He said: “Shouldn’t we know what we have been exposed to? It seems sensible to find out. We totally dislike the idea, but you can not argue they are doing you harm unless you check to see.”

Dr Galea said: “There are very few data sets in the UK to show what they are being exposed to.

“We have been really clear when recruiting farmers and residents - it is not a health study.

“It is just exposure we are interested in. We are very aware there are concerns rightly or wrongly.”

The farmer of the Hevingham field, Tony Bambridge, of B & C Farming at Wood Farm, Marsham, near Aylsham, said: “We have said that as a farming business we basically support good science to provide facts rather than speculation.

“Therefore provided the community researcher can find five households adjoining our fields who are prepared to engage in sending their urine samples, we would be prepared to provide the pesticide records on that field as part of that research project.

“We are absolutely 100pc confident in everything we do and we know that our operators are well-trained and we’ve got a first-class agronomist.

“We believe that we do follow best practice and I’d expect it to be safe and I’m happy for someone to scrutinise that in a research project.”

Nick Mole from the Pesticide Action Network, welcomed the move to carry out the tests, but said: “Residents shouldn’t be exposed to potentially harmful pesticides in the first place.”

A Defra spokesman added: “To help us continue making sure all the right systems are in place, an area around fields already being sprayed is being monitored and no additional pesticides are being used.”

He said that the UK’s pesticide controls were amongst the strictest in Europe.