ISPRA, 2022 report on pesticides in Italian waters

ISPRA report

ISPRA, the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, has updated its previous 2022 report on pesticide contamination of Italian waters to 2020 (1,2). The document is based on 2.492.581 analyzes conducted on 31.275 samples, in the two-year period 2019-2020.

1) Monitoring methodology

The definition of monitoring is regulated by sector regulations (DQA – Directive 2000/60/EC, Directive 2006/118/EC). Currently, around 320 pesticide substances are in use in Italy, in addition to some substances that are banned but still present in the environment. Furthermore, many of the substances most responsible for cases of non-compliance, such as glyphosate, imazamox, nicosulfuron and carbendazim, are often not included in regional monitoring protocols. Such as substances recently placed on the market which may not yet be subject to analysis due to the lack of adequate analytical methods.

In the table 1 indicates the substances classified as dangerous for humans and the environment pursuant to the CLP regulation (Classification, Labeling and Packaging of substances and mixtures) (Reg. CE 1272/2008), currently not searched, which should be included in the plans monitoring taking into account uses in the area. Among these there are also substances marketed in high volumes (greater than 1000 tonnes per year), such as mancozeb, metam-sodium, copper oxychlorides and sulphur. Substances which, due to their relevant dangerous properties, are candidates for replacement are also indicated.

Table Substances classified as dangerous not included in monitoring in 2020
Table 1. Substances classified as dangerous not included in monitoring in 2020.

2) Extent of contamination

The data concerning 4.388 sampling points, 13.644 samples and 1.087.590 analytical determinations show a clear decrease in controls compared to previous years. This decrease is attributed to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on monitoring campaigns, reducing the extent and frequency of sampling.

Inhomogeneities persist in the monitoring points and in the substances searched between the different regions, (Table 2 and Figure 1). Overall, 406 substances are monitored nationally, but this figure does not cover the full spectrum of substances potentially present in water, highlighting the need for a review of monitoring.

In 2020, the presence of pesticides was found in 1.012 surface water monitoring points (55,1% of the total) and in 595 groundwater monitoring points (23,3% of the total), showing an increase compared to the previous year .

Table 2. Status of controls by macro areas in 2020
Monitoring network in 2020
Figure 1. Monitoring network in 2020

3) Pesticides and safety standards

Herbicides emerge as the most prevalent category, representing 43% of positive measures in surface waters and 50% in groundwater. Followed by fungicides and insecticides (Figure 2).

Distribution of the presence of pesticides in samples by functional category in 2020
Figure 2. Distribution of pesticide presences in samples by functional category in 2020

This dominance it is due to the widespread use of products such as glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid), detected in 42% and 68% of detections in 14 regions respectively. Similarly, the herbicide metolachlor and its metabolite metolachlor-hexa were detected in 10% and 46% of detections (the metabolite was searched for in only 2 regions).

Herbicides imazamox and nicosulfuron, which are candidate substances for substitution due to their PBT (Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic) properties, were found in 9% and 7% of detections. (3,4,5) Additionally, the insecticide imidacloprid was detected in 6% of surface water detections.

Among fungicides, metalaxyl, dimethomorph, azoxystrobin and boscalid were found with frequencies ranging from 5% to 4%. (Figure 3 and 4)

Most searched substances in 2020
Figure 3. Most searched substances in 2020
Substances most detected in 2020
Figure 4. Substances most detected in 2020

4) Pesticide mixtures and health impacts

Contamination it does not concern single substances, but often involves complex mixtures, which can contain up to 32 different substances at the same time.(6,7)

In surface waters, 42,9% of samples had at least two substances, with an average of 4,3 substances per sample. The most common substances in these mixtures are glyphosate and AMPA (found in 38,6% and 47,6% of samples), followed by triazine insecticides and herbicides and their metabolites. (8)

In groundwater, 23% of samples contain at least two substances, with an average of 2,9 substances per sample.(9)

Interactions between substances may lead to unpredictable toxicological effects. In fact, the traditional evaluation based on individual substances is not sufficiently precautionary, given that the overall toxicity of a mixture is often greater than that of its individual components.

The risk of polyexposure from these complex chemical “cocktails” is real and the current European MAF (Mixture Assessment Factor) regulation does not fully address these risks and the guidelines for the evaluation of mixtures are not harmonized between the various regulatory sectors.

5) Mitigation approaches and environmental risks

Contamination environmental pollution from pesticides not only threatens ecosystems but also represents a danger to humans, who can be exposed through food, water, respiratory tract and skin. (10,11) Monitoring not only takes into account direct exposure but also indirect exposure due to environmental contamination. (12) (Figure 5)

Risk analysis involves evaluating pesticide concentrations against levels considered safe for humans and the environment, especially in groundwater. (13)

Human exposure routes through the environment
Figure 5. Human exposure routes through the environment [Source ECHA, 2016]

6) Critical issues in the regulatory framework

In the document “Addressing the New Challenges for Risk Assessment” (SCHER/SCENIHR/SCCS, 2013), (14) the European Commission recognizes that preventive risk assessment in pesticide authorization processes presents critical issues. Indeed, current assessments are often based on ideal scenarios and do not fully represent real situations, especially for large-scale use. (15,16)

The persistent presence of some substances and the uncertainty in understanding the cumulative effects further complicate the picture.

7) Daily collective actions

The consumer has the power to make a difference through everyday choices. (17,18) How to choose organic foods, preferably from short supply chains, not only improves individual health, but also helps to reverse the dangerous trend of increasing pesticides in water. (19,20,21)


(1) ISPRA, ISPRA national report on pesticides in waters 2022

(2) Dario Dongo, ISPRA, 2020 report on pesticides in water, GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.12.20

(3) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei, Reduction of pesticides in the EU, ahead with mockery, GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 25.10.23

(4) Dario Dongo, Farm to Fork, resolution in Strasbourg. Focus on pesticides and fertilizers, 2023, GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.10.21

(5) Dario Dongo, Reduction of pesticides, the proposed EU regulation, GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade), 25.06.22

(6) Marta singed, Pesticides, two thirds of the planet at risk of environmental pollution, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade), 26.09.22

(7) Dario Dongo, Ylenia Patti Giammello, Water pollution. Antibiotics, drugs, pesticides in the new EU monitoring plan, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade), 17.10.22

(8) Marta Scorched, Not just glyphosate. 33% of pesticides used in the EU have no risk assessment, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade), 26.11.22

(9) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei, Dispersion of pesticides in soils, aquifers, surface waters and oceans. Research on ‘Nature’, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade), 26.08.23

(10) Marta singed, Stop EU exports of banned pesticides that return to our plates, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade), 26.08.23

(11) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo, Apples, grapes, pears. Too many pesticide residues in food. Legambiente report, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 25.12.20

(12) Dario Dongo, How the agrochemical industry hides the toxicity of pesticides. New studies, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 13.06.23

(13) Alessandra Mei, Regulation on the sustainable use of pesticides, SUR. The travails of EU reform, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 20.12.22

(14) Bridges, James & Autrup, Herman & Angerer, Jürgen & Calow, Peter & Q, Chaudry & Dekant, Wolfgang & Janssen, Colin & Tarazona, Jose & Mattsson, Mats-Olof & Vighi, Marco. (2013). Addressing the New Challenges for Risk Assessment. DOI: 10.2772/37863

(15) Dario Dongo, Nature Restoration Law, reduction of pesticides. MEPs at the service of agro-industrial lobbies, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 17.10.23

(16) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei, Pesticides, stop by the Court of Justice on national derogations from EU bans, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 04.02.23

(17) Dario Dongo, #SalviamoLeApi, civil society calls for a true ecological transition without pesticides in the EU, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 17.06.22

(18) Marta singed, Conegliano, green light for the referendum against pesticides, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 09.06.21

(19) Marta singed, Pesticides used in conventional and bio. Comparison of toxicity, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 16.03.23

(20) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei, Pesticide residues in organic products, accidental contamination under control, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 18.10.22

(21) Dario Dongo, National action plan for pesticides, sustainable agriculture and PNRR. #Clean shovels, GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 04.02.22

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Graduated in Agronomy, with experience in sustainable agriculture and permaculture, laboratory and ecological monitoring.

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.