Pesticides are substances or mixtures of substances that are meant to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate pests. They include products for use in agricultural plant protection and in rural and urban environments to control weeds and protect humans from pests and vector-borne diseases.
Acute exposure to high doses of certain pesticides, whether occupational or by accidental poisoning, can cause severe adverse health effects including neurological impacts and even death. Even chronic low-dose exposure to pesticides has been associated with neurological, respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine effects as well as cancer. Toxicological and epidemiological studies indicate that fetuses, infants, and children are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of pesticides.
New classes of biological pesticides (containing bacteria or fungi), as well as chemical pesticides such as pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, are increasingly replacing pesticides that are known to be toxic for humans—for example, carbamates and organophosphates (OPs). Evidence of the toxicity of these new classes of chemical pesticides, however, has been emerging.1, 2
Four government authorities are responsible for registering pesticides in Israel:
- The Plant Protection and Inspection Services unit at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoAg) registers pesticides for plant protection.
- The Veterinary Services unit at MoAg registers pesticides and disinfectants for use in animals and animal husbandry.
- The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MoEP) registers pesticides used for sanitation purposes—that is, for controlling mosquitoes, rodents, and other pests harmful to humans and their property—in and around buildings and in open spaces.
- The Ministry of Health (MoH) registers pesticides that are applied on the human body, e.g., for lice treatment or mosquito repellant for topical use.
Most of the pesticides sold in Israel are for plant protection—more than six tons of active ingredients in 2016—along with 135,000 kilograms of active ingredients for sanitation and 33,780 kilograms of active ingredients for veterinary use.3
The authorities responsible for registering pesticide formulations also share responsibility for monitoring their use. MoAg and MoH monitor pesticide residues in food—MoAg in local produce at the farm level, MoH in products on the market as well as food imports.4 MoEP oversees the use of pesticides for sanitation; MoAg oversees their veterinary and plant protection use. Since MoAg is the authority that registers herbicides, commonly known as weed killers, it also bears responsibility for overseeing herbicide use outside of agricultural areas, e.g., in cities.
MoEP and MoAg are jointly responsible for two standards that establish mandatory minimum distances from buildings that must be maintained when applying pesticides from the ground and air. MoEP is responsible for ensuring that these distances are maintained when pesticides are sprayed from the air or in proximity to water reservoirs and streams. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is responsible for the safety of agricultural workers.
The environmental NGO Adam Teva V’din (the Israel Union for Environmental Defense) is advocating legislation that would require the government to prepare a national plan for reducing the use of pesticides. In the absence of regular Knesset committee hearings in 2019 (due to the political impasse), however, the initiative did not move forward. Even without a national plan, MoAg is promoting initiatives to reduce pesticide use—for example, a project targeting the Mediterranean fruit fly that includes non-chemical pest control.4
Progress since 2017
The Environmental Health in Israel 2017 report defined challenges related to Pesticides. Progress achieved in this area during the past three years is outlined below.
In 2017–2019, MoAg and the inter-ministerial advisory committee on pesticide formulations for plant protection re-evaluated forty-six active ingredients that are registered in Israel but not in Europe.5
The list of ingredients was not compiled on the basis of toxicity or potential public health risk; the sole criterion was that the ingredient is not registered in Europe. About one-third of these active ingredients are herbicides; another third are insecticides and acaracides. MoAg published decisions on thirty-two active ingredients. For five others, it asked pesticide manufacturers to submit additional documentation for further evaluation. Of the forty-six active ingredients registered in Israel and not in Europe, the committee recommended discontinuing the use of seventeen. Based on the committee’s recommendations, as of March 2020, MoAg was phasing out the use of eight active ingredients (Table 1). Decisions on the other active ingredients are slated to be published in the course of 2020.
Table 1: Plant Protection Pesticides Phased Out in Israel
Source: Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development5
The re-evaluation in 2017–2019 followed earlier rounds, including an evaluation of eleven active ingredients from the triazole family in 2016–2017. Following the latter evaluation, MoAg restricted the use of four active ingredients and banned the use of one – diniconazole-M.
Another re-evaluation addressed herbicides used in non-agricultural areas such as towns, roadsides, and the vicinity of water reservoirs. Following this re-evaluation MoAg published a list of herbicides approved for use in such areas and cited places where their use is permitted or prohibited.6 In a re-evaluation of urban use of glyphosate, MoAg allowed the continued use of this ingredient in Israel, including in non-agricultural areas.
In recent years, data have been published on the Israeli public’s exposure to OP pesticides.
Researchers from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, collected urine samples from 273 pregnant women and from 107 newborns in 2012–2016, and measured OP metabolites. Researchers found a ~35% decrease in the concentration of total OP metabolites in the samples from both population groups during the period studied. No decrease was observed in the concentration of diethyl phosphate (DEP) metabolites.7 Similar findings were reported in an MoH study, part of the 2015–2016 National Health and Nutrition Survey (Rav-MABAT), that measured concentrations of urinary OP metabolites in 200 adults and 103 children. The researchers found a statistically significant decrease in urinary OP metabolites among adults compared with 2011 (Figure 1).8 As in the findings on OP pesticides among pregnant women and newborns, no decrease in the concentration of DEP metabolites was observed. The OP decrease was apparently the result of restrictions imposed on the agricultural use of certain OPs in 2012–2014. The quantity of OPs sold for agricultural use in Israel dropped from an average of 164 tons/year in 2008–2010 to 103 tons/year in 2012–2016.3 However, the fact that there was no decrease in concentrations of DEP metabolites raises concerns that the use of certain active ingredients such as chlorpyrifos and dimethoate did not decline.
Biomonitoring results in recent years in Israel indicate an association between fruit consumption and OP exposure. Among pregnant women who reported eating fruit in the twenty-four hours preceding urine collection, the concentration of a specific chlorpyrifos metabolite (TCPy) was twice as high as in women who did not report eating fruit before urine collection (3.0 μg/L versus 1.5 μg/L).9 Among children, concentrations of OP metabolites were higher in those who consumed large quantities of fruit than in those who consumed smaller quantities.10
As part of the National Biomonitoring Program, an additional survey to monitor public exposure to OP and pyrethroid pesticides began in 2020.
Figure 1: Concentrations of Total Non-Specific Organophosphate Metabolites in Urine in Adults in Israel, 2015 vs. 2011
Source: Israel Ministry of Health8
Based on dietary data from the 2015–2016 Rav-MABAT survey, MoH assessed the risks associated with children’s exposure to pesticides and found that children’s exposure to chlorpyrifos and dimethoate pesticides exceeded the health reference values (Acceptable Daily Intake—ADI) set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The results of the risk assessment were presented to MoAg and appeared in an MoH position paper on chlorpyrifos.
Importantly, the aforementioned exposure assessment was partly based on the results of pesticide residue monitoring of fresh farm produce marketed in Israel. In its monitoring of markets, MoH found exceedances in 12.7% of approximately 2,000 samples taken in 2017–2018 and detected no pesticide residues in 36.7% of the samples.11 A multi-year comparison (2013–2018) shows that in the years 2017–2018, there was a relative increase in the percentage of exceedances, along with a decrease in the percentage of samples in which no pesticide residues were found (Figure 2).
According to a MoAg report, exceedances were found in 11% of the samples tested for pesticide residues in 2017; half of them were not considered exceedances when compared with standards in EU countries.12
Figure 2: Pesticide Residues in Food—Ministry of Health Monitoring Results, 2013–2018
Source: Israel Ministry of Health11
There is no systematic collection of data on all cases of pesticide poisoning in Israel. However, the Israel Poison Information Center at the Rambam Health Care Campus collects and publishes data on inquiries from the public and from physicians. Importantly, the Center’s data do not distinguish between cases of poisoning from agricultural pesticides and those from sanitation pesticides.
According to data on pesticide poisoning in 2018, there were over 1,200 inquiries concerning poisoning from insecticides, about eighty concerning poisoning from herbicides, and more than 100 concerning poisoning from rodenticides. Eleven of the seventy-seven inquiries related to OP poisoning were cases of severe toxicity. Also reported were 589 cases of poisoning from exposure to pyrethroid insecticides, thirty-three from glyphosate formulations, and fourteen from paraquat, two of them severe. Although the number of inquiries received by the Israel Poison Information Center has been increasing in recent years, the number of OP pesticide-related poisonings has been decreasing (Figure 3).13
Figure 3: Pesticide Poisoning in Israel, by Type of Pesticide, 2007–2018
Source: Bentor, 201913
Under the proposed Safety Regulations at Work (Occupational Hygiene and Workers’ Health in Pesticides), 2018, only specially trained professionals may apply or purchase pesticides except those labeled for use by the public. In the absence of regular Knesset committee hearings in 2019, however, these measures were not approved. Legislation proposed by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, titled “Public Health Protection Law: Reducing Pesticide Risk,” addresses the need to train workers who handle particularly dangerous pesticides. The bill, submitted to the Knesset in late 2017, was also stalled due to the Knesset’s paralysis.
A study initiated by the Regional Councils Center at Emek Hefer measured air concentrations of pesticides near three localities in Emek Hefer: Kibbutz Ma’abarot, the Bat Hefer community settlement, and Elyakhin Local Council. The researchers, examining the adsorption of pesticides on filters, found higher air concentrations of two pesticides, pendimethalin and spirotetramat, for about eight hours after spraying than before spraying. Twenty-four hours after spraying, the concentrations of these substances in the air decreased but remained higher than the level detected during spraying.14
In August 2017, MoEP issued professional guidelines for pest control in and around schools.15 The guidelines prohibit pesticide and herbicide use when children are present. Pesticide application in a school is permitted only after approval of the responsible official in the local government and in coordination with the principal of the school. However, there are no available data on the extent of implementation of the new guidelines by schools and local authorities.
The Israel Union for Environmental Defense is advocating a reform that would help to standardize registration requirements and working methods for all active ingredients and pesticide formulations and would require revision every few years based on clear criteria—for example, the level of risk posed by the pesticide.
Research on Exposure to Pesticides in Israel
- Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev examined the effects of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos in mice and found that exposure to this OP impairs social skills. The impairment is different in males compared with females.16 The researchers also found that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos causes behavioral disorders similar to autism.17
- Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Technion Center of Excellence in Exposure Science and Environmental Health (TCEEH), examining the environmental behavior of chlorpyrifos after it is sprayed on leaves, found that the environmental half-life of chlorpyrifos on leaves is 0.9–6.9 hours.18
- Researchers from the Agricultural Research Organization’s Volcani Center and Kimron Veterinary Institute measured pesticide residues in cherry tomatoes as a function of irrigation water salinity, household rinsing, and storage. They found that washing the tomatoes for thirty seconds under running water was ineffective in removing pesticide residues from the peel.19
- Researchers from the Hebrew University Center of Excellence in Agriculture and Environmental Health, MoAg, and Volcani Center studied the effects of the herbicide atrazine on sperm quality and the impact of early exposure to food additives on these effects in goats. They found that exposure to atrazine harms sperm quality and that early exposure to the food additive pistacia lentiscus mitigates the toxic effect of atrazine among goats to some extent.20 Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, examining the effect of atrazine exposure on bovine sperm, found that sperm cells are particularly sensitive to atrazine.21
- Researchers from MoH measured concentrations of urinary OP metabolites in 200 adults and 103 children as part of the Rav-MABAT survey.8, 10
- Researchers from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine collected urine samples from 273 pregnant women and 107 newborns in 2012–2016, and measured specific and non-specific urinary OP metabolites.7
- Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Al-Quds University in eastern Jerusalem, Al-Hussein Governmental Hospital in Beit Jala, and Augusta Victoria Hospital studied exposure to organochlorine pesticides in the Jewish and Palestinian Arab populations. The researchers found an association between non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and exposure to dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) in the Palestinian Arab population only.22
In December 2019, the EU banned the use of the OP pesticide chlorpyrifos for plant protection. While Israel has narrowed the list of crops for which chlorpyrifos may be applied, it still permits use of this pesticide, mainly in orchards and vineyards, and residue exceedances are still found in agricultural produce. Given the toxicological characteristics of chlorpyrifos, the inter-ministerial advisory committee on pesticide formulations for plant protection recommended canceling the registration of chlorpyrifos formulations in Israel. MoAg should consider banning the use of this pesticide altogether.
The results of various analyses—monitoring pesticide residues in food, biomonitoring urinary OPs in children, and assessing OP exposure based on children’s diet—indicate the need to tighten oversight of pesticide use in Israel and to adopt enforcement measures. There is also a need to expand information outreach in order to reduce the use of pesticides and public exposure to them. To bring this about, all relevant entities, particularly MoH and MoAg, must cooperate.
Several active ingredients that are especially toxic and at the same time very effective, including paraquat and carbendazim, are slated for phaseout in the coming years. Therefore, economic and regulatory incentives are needed to develop substitutes. MoAg favors the accelerated registration of less toxic or substitute formulations that have already been registered in developed countries (primarily Europe and the U.S.). This would also entail adopting international regulation on maximum permissible residue levels. MoAg also supports the gradual phaseout of critical uses of formulations in order to avoid direct and immediate harm to certain agricultural sectors.
According to the Public Health Regulations (Food) (Pesticide Residues), 1991, food imported to Israel must meet the Israeli standard or the Codex Alimentarius (the international standard for pesticide residues). Thus, food may enter Israel even if it was treated with a pesticide that is banned for use pursuant to a risk assessment by the inter-ministerial committee (for example, certain OPs). A regulatory solution is needed to address this issue.
A regulatory framework is needed for prohibiting the sale of especially toxic pesticides to the public and restricting their use. Both the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense have proposed regulatory solutions that have not advanced due to the political impasse in 2019.
As part of its re-evaluation of the OP chlorpyrifos, MoH presented data from biomonitoring studies and a risk assessment based on children’s diet. The challenge in the coming years is to expand the use of these tools to additional groups of pesticides, including pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, and to additional groups of vulnerable populations including women of childbearing age.
This chapter and all other chapters in the report was written by a team of scientists and professionals from the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with Environment and Health Fund.
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(2) Caron-Beaudoin, É., Viau, R., & Sanderson, J. T. (2018). Effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on promoter-specific aromatase (CYP19) expression in Hs578t breast cancer cells and the role of the VEGF pathway. Environmental Health Perspectives, 126(4), 047014. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP2698
(3) Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (2019). Table 3: Pesticides sold for use in agriculture–active ingredients, by usage purpose and by chemical family, 2008-2016. https://www.cbs.gov.il/he/publications/DocLib/2019/1744/t03.pdf (retrieved March 2020).
(4) Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Plant Protection and Inspection Services (2019). Summary of conference: “Pesticides in Agricultural Produce—Not What You Thought.” November 6, 2019 (Hebrew). https://www.moag.gov.il/ppis/Yechidot/chimistry/rishum_rishuy/pirsumim/2019/Documents/sikum_kenes_hadbara_27%2011%2019.pdf (retrieved March 2020).
(5) Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Reexamination (revision) of pesticides (Hebrew). https://www.moag.gov.il/ppis/Yechidot/chimistry/rishum_rishuy/pirsumim/2018/Pages/behina_mehadash_hadbara.aspx (retrieved August 2020).
(6) Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Plant Protection and Inspection Services (2018). Redefinition of the term “fallow areas” that appears on labels of weed killers (Hebrew). https://www.moag.gov.il/ppis/Yechidot/chimistry/rishum_rishuy/Documents/shithei_bor_michtav.pdf (retrieved March 2020).
(7) Ein-Mor, E., Ergaz-Shaltiel, Z., Berman, T., Göen, T., Natsheh, J., Ben-Chetrit, A., Haimov-Kochman, R., & Calderon-Margalit, R. (2018). Decreasing urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites among pregnant women and their offspring in Jerusalem: Impact of regulatory restrictions on agricultural organophosphate pesticides use? International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 221(5), 775–781. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijheh.2018.03.013
(8) Israel Ministry of Health, Israel Center for Disease Control and Public Health Services (2018). Exposure to organophosphate pesticides among adults in Israel 2015-2016. Part A: Trends and international comparison (Hebrew). https://www.health.gov.il/publicationsfiles/organic_phosphates_2015_2016.pdf (retrieved March 2020).
(9) Calderon, R. (February, 2020), personal communication.
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(11) Israel Ministry of Health, National Food Service (2020). Analysis of pesticide residue monitoring in food in Israel, 2017-2018 (Hebrew). https://www.health.gov.il/PublicationsFiles/pest_findings2017-2018.pdf (retrieved March 2020).
(12) Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Plant Protection and Inspection Services (2019). Survey of pesticide residues in local farm produce, 2017 (Hebrew). https://www.moag.gov.il/ppis/Yechidot/chimistry/rishum_rishuy/pirsumim/2019/Documents/seker_hadbara_totzeret_tria_2017.pdf (retrieved in March 2020).
(13) Bentor, Y. (2019). Exposures and poisonings from pesticides: Data from the Israel Poison Information Center. Oral presentation, Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development conference: “Pesticides in Agricultural Produce—Not What You Thought.” Beit Dagan, Israel (Hebrew).
(14) Nekudat Hen (in press). Monitoring pesticides in the air as a basis for agreement in the agricultural-community interface (Hebrew).
(15) Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection (2017). Ten principles for using pesticides in and around educational institutions (Hebrew). https://www.gov.il/BlobFolder/generalpage/safe_extermination_in_schools/he/PestControl_PestControl_principles_application_pesticide_educational_institutions.pdf (retrieved March 2020).
(16) Lan, A., Stein, D., Portillo, M., Toiber, D., & Kofman, O. (2019). Impaired innate and conditioned social behavior in adult C57Bl6/J mice prenatally exposed to chlorpyrifos. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 15, 2. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12993-019-0153-3
(17) Lan, A., Kalimian, M., Amram, B., & Kofman, O. (2017). Prenatal chlorpyrifos leads to autism-like deficits in C57Bl6/J mice. Environmental Health, 16, 43. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-017-0251-3
(18) Lester, Y., Sabach, S., Zivan, O., & Dubowski, Y. (2017). Key environmental processes affecting the fate of the insecticide chloropyrifos applied to leaves. Chemosphere, 171, 74–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.12.013
(19) Shimshoni, J. A., Bommuraj, V., Chena, Y., Sperling, R., Barel, S., Kaye, Y., & Fallik, E. (2019). Residual distribution kinetics of pesticides in cherry tomato peel, pulp, and fruit as a function of irrigation water salinity, household rinsing, and storage regimen. Agronomy, 9(12), 800. https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy9120800
(20) Komsky-Elbaz, A., Saktsier, M., Biran, D., Argov-Argaman, N., Azaizeh, H., Landau, Y. S., & Roth, Z. (2019). Atrazine-induced toxicity in goat spermatozoa is alleviated to some extent by polyphenol-enriched feed. Chemosphere, 236, 124858. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.124858
(21) Komsky-Elbaz, A., Zubov, A., & Roth, Z. (2019). Effect of the herbicide atrazine and its major metabolite, DACT, on bovine sperm cryotolerance. Theriogenology, 140, 117–123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.theriogenology.2019.08.026
(22) Klil-Drori, A. J., Kleinstern, G., Abu Seir, R., Choshen-Cohen, L., Abdeen, Z., Hussein, E., ... Paltiel, O. (2018). Serum organochlorines and non-Hodgkin lymphoma: A case-control study in Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Chemosphere, 213, 395–402. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2018.09.069