Friday February 1, 2013
Banned but still in use
IT is heartening to note the recent media coverage and attention given to the current land clearing and water pollution issues affecting Cameron Highlands.
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) would like to congratulate The Star for bringing the issues to the forefront as they adversely impact the lives of people in the area. Furthermore, such situations do not augur well for the reputation of our country as a tourist attraction.
Cameron Highlands over the years has acquired a reputation for its dangerous use of pesticides and of very serious concern is the evidence of the use of restricted and illegal pesticides.
Following the aftermath of the media expose on land clearing at Cameron Highlands, we wish to call to attention the underlying critical issue at hand.
The media reports, together with research conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan of Malaysia and Universiti Technologi Malaysia, have suggested that there is use of lindane and DDT, which are banned in the country, and are known toxic and dangerous pesticides.
Lindane and DDT are suspected to be in use in the farms and plantations of Cameron Higlands. The use of lindane was discontinued after January 2000. Therefore, the use of lindane and DDT is illegal.
Lindane and DDT, which are known as persistently organic pollutants (POPs), are organic compounds that have long half-lives in the environment and undergo slow physical, chemical, and biological degradation.
They are able to pass through ecosystems and can travel great distances, both locally and globally. POPs persist for a very long time in the environment. POPs tend to have high lipid solubility and therefore bioaccumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms, and can be measured several months to several years after exposure.
These characteristics mean that they can pose a special threat. Some of the known POPs are also known endocrine disruptors in that they mimic the function of steroid compounds such as hormones, potentially leading to disruption of the endocrine system in both animals and humans. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects and other developmental disorders.
Also in February 2012, mass fish death near the Sungai Terla water intake area created a scare enough to temporarily close the Kuala Terla water plant down. From a preliminary survey of the three main watershed regions in Cameron Highlands, conducted by PAN AP in 2012, hazardous pesticides including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides were found in storage at the farms.
In addition, there were a number of illegal pesticides in foreign language packaging found in storage. It was also alarming to note that there was blatant disregard for the proper disposal of pesticide and fertiliser containers, which were found around the farms close to Sg Terla.
We interviewed a number of farmers from the vegetable and flower farms in Cameron Highlands and found that they all had experienced symptoms of probable pesticide poisoning such as dizziness, coughs, headaches and rashes. They also said that none of them used any sort of personal protective equipment when spraying the pesticides.
Reconciling food security with environmental integrity are current issues of paramount significance and importance at all levels. The world is more environmentally literate now and this has been the basis for a quickening change in consumer preferences.
PAN AP strongly recommends that legislation and its enforcement be implemented with immediate effect where the use of highly hazardous pesticides and, in the case of Cameron Highlands, where banned pesticides appear to be still in use.
SAROJENI V. RENGAM
Executive director, PAN Asia and the Pacific