ASIA: Pesticides pose health risks


Photo: Contributor/IRIN
An onion farmer in Bali’s Kintamani Valley. Indonesia is a lucrative market for pesticides

NUSA DUA, 25 February 2010 (IRIN) – The use of some pesticides in Asian countries has exposed communities across the region to unacceptably high health risks, according to a study conducted by the international Pesticide Action Network (PAN).

PAN Asia and the Pacific said interviews with peasant farmers in eight Asian countries revealed that 66 percent of pesticide-active ingredients used on vegetables, paddy and other crops were highly hazardous according to the group’s classification criteria.

“Exposure to these pesticides puts communities at high risk of developing severe permanent health problems such as endocrine disruption, which can be caused at low doses of exposure to certain pesticides,” said Bella Whittle, coordinator of the project and author of the report, launched to coincide with an environmental conference organized by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Bali, Indonesia, from 22 to 26 February.

The interviews with more than 1,300 farmers were conducted in 2008 in China, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, said PAN, an umbrella group for more than 600 NGOs worldwide.

Poison symptoms

Respondents said they experienced one or more symptoms, such as headaches, when using pesticides or being exposed to them, with reports ranging from 5 percent in one area to 91 percent in another.

In Bangladesh, pesticide poisoning was recorded in 2008 as a leading cause of death, and officially recorded as the second-highest cause of death among 15-49 age group, the PAN report said.

Given that previous studies have found that up to 98 percent of cases of pesticide poisoning were under-reported, many agricultural communities may be suffering acute and chronic health effects of chemicals, the group said.

“It is essentially distressing that the most vulnerable populations, such as women and children, the sick, the malnourished and the elderly are disproportionately affected and cannot escape the sources of exposure,” Whittle told reporters in Bali.

Several pesticides used in the Asian countries have been banned elsewhere, even in countries that are home to the agrochemical companies’ headquarters, the PAN report said.

Paraquat, an acutely toxic herbicide with no antidote, is banned in Europe, where it is produced, while endosulfan is banned in over 62 countries, the group said.

Deadly exposure

However, Hedi Surya, 51, a farmer in Bali, told IRIN: “I’ve sprayed pesticides for 20 years and I have not been sick because of poisoning. I always use a towel to cover my mouth when spraying and face the direction of the wind.”

The PAN report said people were exposed to the deadly chemicals for various reasons, including a lack of protective equipment, spills during mixing and spraying, and spraying against the wind.


Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Pesticide poisoning is a leading cause of death in Bangladesh

PAN is urging countries to make huge efforts to implement international regulations on pesticides and stop the registration of pesticides that require personal protective equipment, saying its shortcomings and cost made proper use unfeasible.

“Governments should phase out highly hazardous pesticides and progressively phase in non-chemical pest-management approaches,” said PAN Asia and the Pacific director Sarojani Rengam.

Lucrative Indonesian market

In Indonesia, six out of 100 farmers interviewed in the Central Java district of Wonosobo as part of the PAN study had experienced serious poisoning, said Rossana Dewi, an activist with Gita Pertiwi, an NGO which conducted the survey.

“Indonesia is a lucrative market for pesticides,” Dewi told IRIN. “Indonesian farmers use pesticides extensively, many of them using several pesticides for their crops.”

In 2009, there were 1,832 brands of pesticides sold in the country, an increase from 1,702 brands in the previous year, she said.

Farmers usually wear long-sleeve shirts, trousers and hats when spraying pesticides, but few use proper protective equipment, she said.

The use of pesticides as mosquito repellants is also widespread in Indonesian households, she said.

“Our survey in seven cities on Java shows that each household used two types of pesticides as mosquito repellants. That means it’s highly likely the food we consume is contaminated with pesticides,” she said.

In Bali, environmentalists also expressed concern that the heavy use of pesticides on farms had contaminated lakes. “The government is not taking action to seriously address the problem of chemical pollution in lakes,” Children of Nature Community, a local NGO, said on its website anakalam.org.  “One hundred percent of locals still use chemical pesticides.”

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