Georgina Downs takes pesticide case to European courts

Georgina Downs

Georgina Downs won a landmark High Court ruling in November, 2008

UK court refuses to overturn appeal decision despite accusations it was ignoring evidence presented by the long-time pesticide campaigner

Pesticide campaigner Georgina Downs is taking her case against the UK government to the European courts after failing to get a previous victory upheld by the Supreme Court.

In a landmark judgement in November 2008, the High Court ruled that the Government was failing to adequately protect rural communities from the harmful affects of pesticide spraying.

Downs insisted that current 'bystander' models for assessing the harmful affects of pesticides did not take account of people living in close proximity to where regular spraying was taking place.

The presiding judge, Mr Justice Collins, agreed and concluded that Downs had produced solid evidence that, 'residents have suffered harm to their health' and that the current measures did, 'not adequately protect residents'.

Government appeals

However, the UK government quickly appealed that decision and in July 2009 the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling after refusing to consider Downs's evidence, saying she had no formal scientific or medical qualifications.

At the time of that ruling, environment minister Hilary Benn insisted the government was working to 'better assess bystander exposure of pesticides so that we can continue to improve our models'.

After failing to get the Supreme Court to uphold the original ruling, Downs has decided to take her case to the European Courts and says she is confident of victory.

'The case I presented to the UK courts clearly involves arguable points of law of general public importance and if it didn’t then I would not have won in the High Court or even have been granted permission to take the case to the High Court in the first place.'

Evidence ignored

Downs has now made public on her website the evidence the Court of Appeal ignored, including details of how in 2003 the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) found that the Government's existing 'bystander' model was an inadaquate method of protecting residents.

According to Downs, the PSD, recently renamed the Chemicals Regulations Directorate (CRD), undertook estimates for other exposure factors, other than that already relied upon in the Government’s bystander model (which is short-term exposure of just five minutes or less, at eight metres from the sprayer).

It found 82 examples of exceedances of the safety limits set for exposure (the so-called Acceptable Operator Exposure Level (AOEL)).

'Despite the results obtained, astonishingly no action was taken to revoke approvals of the pesticides that were shown in the PSD’s very own estimates to exceed the AOEL,' said Downs.

'No further estimates were carried out on all the other pesticides approved for use at that time, and nor has this been done subsequently; and no change was made to the bystander assessment model.

'Did they notice this and ignore it or just not notice it at all?' Asks Downs, who says the public should have been made aware of the findings.

In a statement issued today, the PSD said the study quoted by Downs, included a range of estimates for scenarios that 'could not be expected to commonly occur in everyday life, including extreme levels of estimated exposure'.

'Unsurprisingly, some of these theoretical scenarios indicated estimated levels of exposure that would be above the acceptable level,' said the statement.

'The Advisory Committee on Pesticides took the view that regulators should base their decisions on the standard model, reflecting realistic exposure levels. Defra was aware of this decision,' added the PSD.

Useful links

UK Pesticides Campaign site

Chemicals Regulations Directorate

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