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Last update: May 2021

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Residents' exposure to pesticides: how close are agricultural areas to residential buildings in France?

habitations à promixité de zones agricoles, cliché Christophe Maitre, INRAE
In a decree issued in 2019, the French government defined mandatory pesticide-free buffer zones near residential buildings in order to limit the exposure of residents to pesticides. However, the amount of agricultural area and the crop species grown close to residential buildings had never been studied before in France. This knowledge gap has recently been filled by a team of researchers and teacher-researchers from our lab (UMR Agronomie). They show the amount of agricultural area and crop types within pesticide-free buffer zones around residential buildings vary greatly depending on agricultural regions and the size of buffer zones.

The regulation of pesticide-free buffer zones passed in 2019 defines safety distances of at least 5 to 10 m from residential buildings without the application of pesticides.  However, the appropriate width for these pesticide-free buffer zones is highly debated. On the one hand, larger buffer zones (up to 150 m) are advocated by some environmental NGOs to ensure better protection of local residents. On the oth-er hand, concerns have been raised by some leading French farmers unions about higher risk of yield loss in pesticide-free areas.

To find out how much agricultural land and which crop species may be affected by pesticide-free buffer zones, the researchers combined two IGN databases: the French Land Parcel Identification System, which provides an annual map of cultivated field parcels in France disaggregated by crop type, and the « BD TOPO® » database, which provides the location of residential buildings in France. They identified agricultural areas close to residential buildings for distances ranging from 5 to 150 m and for 23 different types of crops.

The results, published in the journal Building and Environment, show that 5% of total agricultural area in mainland France is located within 50 m of a residential building. This figure rises rapidly to 30% when considering a distance of 150 m to residential buildings. Grassland (therefore pesticide-free) is the main type of crop found near residential buildings, followed by cereals (wheat, maize, barley), then rapeseed and vineyards. Furthermore, some crops could be more affected than others by the implementation of pesticide-free buffer zones, regardless of the distance applied. For example, the researchers estimated that 32 to 45% of vineyards and 37 to 53% of orchards national area are located within 150 m to residential buildings, whereas this figure falls to 20% for cereals. This is of importance as vineyards and orchards are two crop types with high pesticide use intensity.

The implementation of pesticide-free buffer zones could therefore have a strong impact on agricultural production nationwide, as pesticide reduction is often associated with production losses and decreases in some product quality criteria. However, the presence of treated crops near residential buildings requires attention because of its potential effect on residents’ exposure to pesticides.

Building and Environment, How much agricultural land is there close to residential areas? An assessment at the national scale in France, Nicolas Guilpart, Iris Bertin, Muriel Valantin-Morison, Corentin M.Barbu - UMR Agronomie (AgroParisTech - INRAE) DOI :  

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