Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs)

“Pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a global threat to the entire ecological system upon which food production depends. Excessive use and misuse of pesticides result in contamination of surrounding soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity, destroying beneficial insect populations that act as natural enemies of pests and reducing the nutritional value of food”. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, January 2017, A/HRC/34/48.

Pesticides are inherently hazardous, and among them, a relatively small number of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) cause disproportionate harm to environment and human health including: severe environmental hazards, high acute and chronic toxicity.

In 2015, SAICM Fourth International Conference of Chemicals Management (ICCM4) adopted a resolution that recognizes HHPs as an issue of international concern and calls for concerted action to address HHPs.

What are Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs)?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) code of conduct (FAO and WHO in 2013) and the Guidelines on Highly Hazardous pesticides (FAO and WHO 2016) adopted the following definition:

“Highly Hazardous Pesticides means pesticides that are acknowledged to present particularly high levels of acute or chronic hazards to health or environment according to internationally accepted classification systems such as WHO or Global Harmonized System (GHS) or their listing in relevant binding international agreements or conventions. In addition, pesticides that appear to cause severe or irreversible harm to health or the environment under conditions of use in a country may be considered to be and treated as highly hazardous”.

Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT) on Flickrs

How to recognize them and how many pesticides are Highly Hazardous Pesticides?

There is no official list of Highly Hazardous Pesticides. However, in 2007 the Joint FAO/WHO meeting on Pesticide Management (JMPM) developed the following eight criteria for highly hazardous pesticides, the criteria below include links to documents and conventions that include Highly Hazardous Pesticides:

Criteria 1: Pesticide formulations that meet the criteria of classes Ia or Ib of the WHO Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard; or

Criteria 2: Pesticide active ingredients and their formulations that meet the criteria for category 1A and 1B carcinogens as used by the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) on chemicals classification and labelling; or

Criteria 3: Pesticide active ingredients and their formulations that meet the criteria for category 1A and 1B mutagens as used by the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) on chemicals classification and labelling; or

Criteria 4: Pesticide active ingredients and their formulations that meet the criteria for category 1A and 1B reproductive toxicity as used by the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) on chemicals classification and labelling; or

Relevant links referring to criteria 2-4:

Criteria 5: Pesticide active ingredients listed in Annexes A and B of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and those meeting all the criteria in paragraph 1 of Annex D

Criteria 6: Pesticide active ingredients and formulations listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention on the prior informed consent procedure; or

Criteria 7: pesticides listed under the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances; or

Criteria 8: Pesticide active ingredients and formulations that have a high incidence of severe or irreversible adverse effects on human health or the environment.

Other relevant documents can be found:

The International code of Conduct on Pesticide Management (ICCPM) and the ICCPM Guidelines on Highly Hazardous Pesticides – FAO/WHO, 2016.

IPCS INCHEM produced through cooperation between the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), offers chemical safety information from Intergovernmental Organization. Rapid access to internationally peer reviewed information on chemicals commonly used throughout the world, which may also occur as contaminants in the environment and food.

Annual Cancer Report: Chemicals Evaluated for Carcinogenic Potential Office of Pesticide Programs U.S. EPA available on the website of the National Pesticide Information Centre.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines categories for environmental Toxicity of pesticides and summarizes the toxicity of pesticides to certain species groups: Technical overview of Ecological Risk Assessment.

FAO Pesticide Registration Toolkit is a decision support system for pesticide registrars in developing countries. It can be seen as a desk-top electronic registration handbook for day-to-day use by those involved in the registration of pesticides. With respect to highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), the Toolkit can be used as an aid to implement the three steps described in the guidelines of HHP:  Identification, Assessment and Mitigation.

The Pesticide Action Network International - PAN international developed the following documents: a) List of Highly Hazardous Pesticides 2016, this list shows which pesticides are highly hazardous and b) Consolidated list of Pesticides Bans by country, the spreadsheet is updated approximately every 6 months. Both documents indicate if the pesticides are a highly hazardous according to the criteria of Joint FAO/WHO meeting on Pesticide Management and/or other criteria agreed by the PAN (which include the criteria of inhalation toxicity (H330) and environmental criteria).

Pesticide Properties DataBase (PPDB), is a comprehensive relational database of pesticide chemical identity, physicochemical, human health and ecotoxicological data. It has been developed by the Agriculture & Environment Research Unit (AERU) at the University of Hertfordshire.

Highly Hazardous Pesticides affecting the environment and our health

Natural Environment
Photo by Victor Hugo Estellano Schulze
Photo by Malgorzata Alicja Stylo

Effects of pesticides on the Environment and Wildlife

The environment includes all of the living and non-living things that surround us, including the air, water, plants, soil and wildlife. 

Wildlife includes but is not limited to bees, birds, small mammals, fish, other aquatic organisms, and the biota within soil.

The impacts of pesticides on wildlife are extensive, and expose animals in urban, suburban and rural areas to unnecessary risks. Wildlife can be impacted by pesticides through:

Direct or indirect applications, such as pesticide drift, secondary poisoning, runoff into local water bodies, and groundwater contamination. It is possible that some animals could be sprayed directly, while others consume plants or prey that have been exposed to pesticides.

The figure below shows the documented pesticide effects on wildlife at different levels of biological organizations and known (solid arrows) or evidence-supported, anticipated (dashed arrows) interrelations among them. However, research remains to be conducted wherever plausibly interrelated effects are not connected by arrows. Most of the sub-individual data for mammals are derived from non-wildlife studies.

Wildlife ecotoxicology of pesticides
Source: From (Heinz-R. Köhler and Rita Triebskorn, Wildlife Ecotoxicology of Pesticides: Can We Track Effects to the Population Level and Beyond?, Science 341, 759 (2013), DOI: 10.1126/science.1237591). Reprinted with permission from AAAS." "Readers may view, browse, and/or download material for temporary copying purposes only, provided these uses are for non-commercial personal purposes. Except as provided by law, this material may not be further reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, adapted, performed, displayed, published, or sold in whole or in part, without prior written permission from the publisher."