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Paraquat Poisoning: So easily available

Contributed by Anonymous on Sunday, May 24 @ 00:12:49 CDT

Plantation Workers
NST, May 24 2009

Plantation workers and others breathed a sigh of relief when paraquat was banned in 2002. But the highly toxic herbicide has made a comeback and this has many quarters worried, writes SHANTI GUNARATNAM

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 herbicide.

"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.

The government issued a circular then saying that pesticides and herbicides containing paraquat and calcium cyanide would not be allowed to be re-registered.

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.

Three 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."

Halimi 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.

It 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 herbicides.

Paraquat Poisoning: 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 herbicide. 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 selling it.

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 rash).

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.


Paraquat Poisoning: 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.

While 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 equipment.

"Once 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."

Paraquat Poisoning: 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."

Exposure 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 protective clothing.

Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita had said that Malaysia's 30,000 women pesticide sprayers were being exposed to potentially toxic doses of the chemical.

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 fatal.

"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.



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