A Sussex woman is taking on the Government in a bid to expose the health risks of crop-spaying and her lone battle is making progress.

When Georgina Downs' family designed and built their dream home in the early-Eighties they had little idea of the nightmare it would become.

Within a year of moving in, the fields bordering their new garden started to be sprayed with pesticides as they were switched to intensive arable production.

Soon Ms Downs began to suffer from the ill-health that was to blight her childhood.

Her throat and mouth were often sore, swollen and blistered, and she frequently suffered flu-type illnesses, headaches and giddiness.

After almost ten years her health had deteriorated so badly she was admitted to hospital, suffering from chronic muscle wastage and weakness.

Ms Downs said: "Looking back now they are acute effects of pesticide exposure but we did not know that then. No one warned us, we were not informed and I would be in the garden playing right next to the crop-spraying.

"For the first nine years I had continuous health problems. It was not until I became very ill in 1991 that we started to look at what was in the surrounding environment."

Ms Downs, now 29, has now launched a one-woman campaign against the health dangers posed by the cocktail of pesticides sprayed on farmland.

There are eight fields visible from the windows of the family home at Runcton, near Chichester. There are at least 25 within two miles, many of them sprayed as part of the intensive cropping that dominates that part of Sussex.

As Ms Downs recovered from her 1991 illness, she watched more pesticides being sprayed on those fields, a tiny fraction of the 25,000 tonnes of the chemicals used on British farms every year.

She said: "I just sat here one day and asked what does it actually do? What is that tractor actually spraying?"

Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms and by their very nature are highly poisonous.

They have been linked to Parkinson's disease and leukaemia, to cancers of the stomach, bowel, prostrate and breast, to multiple sclerosis, asthma, immune deficiencies and allergies.

Ms Downs has a 30-year-old leaflet published by the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which shows how workers should wear respirators and protective clothing while spraying pesticides.

Nobody ever told children playing on the other side of a fence they should dress the same way.

The only real test of the risk of spraying to the general public is the so-called Bystander Assessment, which assumes there will only be short-term exposure of no more than five minutes.

It hardly inspires confidence for people such as Ms Downs, who have lived near heavily sprayed fields during the half-century pesticides have been a fixture of British agriculture.

Finding out what had been sprayed on the fields was next to impossible.

There is no legal obligation for farmers to tell the public what they are spraying, when they intend to spray or what chemicals they have used in the past.

The Health and Safety Executive can get the information but cannot disclose it to any third party unless the farmer agrees.

Ms Downs said: "Looking back over the last 50 years, people have raised the same concern over and over again - complained about cancers and health problems - but it has just been discounted. It has been completely dismissed and ignored.

"Nobody has accepted responsibility or liability for this. Everybody is blaming everybody else."

For two years Ms Downs has campaigned for a ban on crop-spraying near homes, schools, workplaces or any other human habitation.

She wants farmers to be legally obliged to inform people when any spraying is to take place, and supply information on the chemicals used.

She said: "The evidence is clearly showing pesticides are travelling miles from where they are originally applied. The health risks can be over two miles away."

Ms Downs has been badgering advisory committees, lobbying farming policy makers and putting her foot in ministers' doors.

She has had talks with environment minister Michael Meacher and farming minister Lord Whitty, forcing from them an admission that crop-spraying needed to be re-examined and a pledge to take action this year.

Mr Meacher produced his own paper on the risks of organophosphates, derived from nerve gas, and at the top of the pesticide danger list, when he was in opposition.

The Pesticide Action Network this month launched its own Right to Know Campaign, inspired by Ms Downs' struggle.

The pressure group wants people to be informed before spraying takes place, told what chemicals are to be used, and have access to the spray history of any field.

It is calling for buffer zones between sprayed fields and people's homes, of a size decided by people living near farmland where crop-spraying takes place.

The windows at Ms Downs' family home will be shut all summer and when she, or her mother or father, are outside they will have to take precautions to protect themselves from chemicals drifting across the garden.

Lettuce, one of the most heavily sprayed of all intensively grown crops in Britain, is expected to be planted in some of the surrounding fields this spring.

Ms Downs said: "My dad has to wear a respirator and goggles on his own property. It is outrageous. We are imprisoned in our own home.

"The more evidence ministers get about other cases, the more likely it is they will take action. They have got to take action, the only question is: What they will do?"