Swiss agrochemical company Syngenta sells
paraquat internationally under the trade name Gramoxone. Paraquat is a
green liquid, its chemical composition interacts with plant material to
produce peroxide. Peroxide injures plants by interfering with
photosynthesis and chlorophyll synthesis. Sprayed in sufficient
amounts, it kills. Paraquat is not approved for use in Switzerland.
THE government is very concerned that paraquat is readily available in the country.
"We are very worried," said Pesticides Control Division deputy director Halimi Mahmud.
"We know it is available in many places, including hardware shops, and people outside the plantation industry can purchase it."
Halimi said that anyone licensed to sell paraquat must get the name of the purchaser.
The other requirements are that paraquat is kept under lock
and key at all times and it has proper storage space with good
ventilation and concrete flooring.
Signboards also should be put up to inform the public of its toxicity and there should be no smoking around the pesticide.
Paraquat, said Halimi, was supposed to have been phased out in 2006 but the government reversed the decision.
"Last year, the government wanted to review the temporary lifting of the ban but no decision has been made.
"We don't know when the Pesticides Board will make a decision on it."
Halimi said they were aware that paraquat came with many health problems and there were safer and cheaper substitutes.
"However, the plantation industry does not want it banned and said that
the social problems of the country should not be blamed on the
"We will have to wait and see what the government decides."
Activist groups were delighted when the government decided to enforce the ban in 2002, much to the chagrin of plantation owners.
government issued a circular then saying that pesticides and herbicides
containing paraquat and calcium cyanide would not be allowed to be
It also said that it was banning all advertisements on the two substances.
The government had said the decision to ban paraquat was due to the fact that cheaper and safer alternatives were available.
years ago, the government "temporarily" lifted the ban, a shocking move
many read as buckling under pressure from the plantations.
The Pesticides Board allowed paraquat, manufactured by Swiss agrochemical company Syngenta, to be registered for all crops.
"The plantation industry wants to continue using paraquat because of its efficacy.
"Activists can talk about using other methods, a more sustainable method, but it is easier said than done.
"What plantations should consider is to look at safer options, some of which are cheaper than paraquat."
said the Department of Agriculture was the authority that enforced the
Highly Toxic Pesticide Regulation 1996 and it monitored farms and
retail outlets to ensure things were "in order".
The department conducted 950 raids in 2007 on shops selling paraquat and 701 raids the following year.
also mounted roadblocks and patrolled the borders to prevent illegal
pesticides from being brought into Malaysia.
For those two
years, the department collected RM87,000 in fines for the sale of
controlled herbicides without valid licences, their sale at premises
not licensed by the board and for the sale and storage of illegal
Deadly, just a teaspoonful
IF you consume, accidently or otherwise, just a teaspoon of paraquat,
you will be dead for there is no known antidote for this toxic
Paraquat causes direct damage when it comes into
contact with the lining of the mouth, stomach or intestines, says the
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Toxic chemical reactions occur throughout many parts of the body,
primarily the lungs, liver and kidneys, and the person who has
swallowed it dies from multi-organ failure.
In Malaysia, as in
most other countries, you need to be a commercially-licensed user to
buy it. And yet, it is easily available, with even hardware shops
Paraquat poisoning is also possible after prolonged skin exposure, like those who spray it in plantations have suffered.
Poisoning is more likely to occur if the skin exposure lasts
for a long time, involves a concentrated version of paraquat, or occurs
through skin that is not intact (skin that has sores, cuts or a severe
Sarojeni V. Rengam of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific
said the herbicide had been banned in many countries and restricted in
others, including Indonesia and America.
"Paraquat should have been phased out by 2006 but it is still in use today," said Sarojeni.
"The plantations are not looking after their workers, especially the paraquat sprayers.
Reaching out to get it banned
THE Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil Process (RSPO) could help get paraquat banned in Malaysia.
"We have our work cut out for us," said Steven Ng, Tenaganita's programme officer at RSPO/National Network on Palm Oil.
"We will need external lobbying to get paraquat phased out or banned.
It will be a long drawn process and will take 10 to 20 years before
Malaysia is rid of paraquat."
RSPO members come from seven
sectors: oil palm growers, palm oil processors and traders, consumer
goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors,
environmental/nature conservation non-governmental organisations and
social/developmental NGOs. The body regulates the industry through a
set of operating parameters calling for good conduct and best practices.
large plantation companies have strict policies on how the herbicide is
handled, it doesn't necessarily mean the policy is adhered to strictly
at the spraying end.
Personal protective equipment, which include good quality
goggles, masks, boots, gloves and aprons, should be worn at all times
by sprayers. Often, the protective equipment is not changed or upgraded
after prolonged use or some plantations issue sub-standard quality
the herbicide touches your skin, it can remain on the skin for a long,
long time. You can try washing it off at least 100 times, but it will
remain on the skin."
Ban lifted,more cases of poisoning
THE National Poison Centre Universiti Sains Malaysia said the number of
cases reported on paraquat poisoning has been rising steadily after the
ban on the toxic herbicide was lifted in November 2006.
The government banned paraquat in August 2002.
"These are only the cases that have been reported to us," said an official.
"We do not know the outcome of the cases because there was no follow-up by the hospitals."
to paraquat, also known as dipyridylium, leads to a wide range of
complaints such as rashes, vomiting, back pain, nausea, breathing
difficulties, skin disorders, eye irritations and headaches.
A poison centre study in 2002 found that estate workers used
backpack sprayers for an average of 262 days a year, many without
Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita had said that Malaysia's 30,000 women
pesticide sprayers were being exposed to potentially toxic doses of the
While the greatest risk to workers is during the
mixing of the concentrated paraquat and filling of the sprayers,
prolonged contact with the toxic herbicide during spraying can also be
"Statistics from the (National) Poison Centre reveal that
between 1987 and 1997, in 27 per cent of poisoning cases, death from
paraquat came about through accidents and exposure during normal use by
workers," she said.