Bordeaux school children sick from vineyard pesticides, say officials

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  • Wednesday 21 May 2014

Pesticide use by winemakers is under extra scrutiny in Bordeaux after several school children were briefly hospitalised by suspected exposure to fungicide from a nearby vineyard.

Bordeaux vineyard

Vineyards owners in Bordeaux are being reminded to use pesticides carefully near to residential areas

A junior school in Bordeaux's Blaye region saw 23 pupils affected by nausea and headaches on the morning of 5 May, following fungicide spraying in a next-door vineyard.

Some of them were taken to a local hospital and put under special observation, although symptoms faded within 24 hours and all returned to the school, at Villeneuve in Blaye-sur-Gironde, within a few days.

An investigation by Aquitaine's food and agriculture body, DRAAF, together with the region's health agency, found the children's symptoms matched those of pesticide exposure.

Although the fungicide in question is legal and commonly used, it was applied in an ‘inappropriate manner without taking sufficient precaution of the surroundings’, the bodies said.

It is thought remnants of the fungicide drifted across to the school on the wind.

‘The difficulty is a general one across rural communities in France,’ Francois Hervieu, of DRAAF, told Decanter.com.

‘Tensions can arise between the local residents and the agricultural communities who live and work alongside them. The treatments applied were all legal, and mildew and oidium is a serious problem across French vineyards, but the difficulty is finding a compromise that works for both sides.'

The Villeneuve case is especially sensitive, because one of the two owners of the vines being sprayed is the commune's mayor, Catherine Verges.

There has been no decision yet on whether legal or civil proceedings will follow.

But, Bordeaux's regional wine bodies, including CIVB wine council, have agreed to a request by Aquitaine Prefet Michel Delpeuch to redistribute advice on safe vineyard treatments.

They will also recommend building hedges around vineyards close to schools, and that producers spray out of school hours.

Last month, a former French vineyard worker who sued her chateau employer over illnesses allegedly caused by pesticides won her case, in what her lawyer said could set a precedent.

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