Killer pesticides: Mindless use in Dhamrai farmlands causes death of 3 kids in a month; many others ill

Excessive use of pesticides on farmlands of Malancha and Naogakaith in Dhamrai upazila has led to death of at least three children and a number of calves, dogs and fowls last month.

For same reasons, some 13 other children, all aged below seven, were hospitalised, while some farmers too fell sick during the period.

A committee formed by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) reveals this in its primary investigation report.

Talking about reasons behind the deaths in Dhamrai, IEDCR Director Dr Mahmudur Rahman told The Daily Star, “We are sure it was pesticide poisoning. And we are afraid it’s happening in other parts of the country as well.”

During a visit to the villages yesterday, this correspondent found the families did not yet know that excessive use of pesticides had caused the death of their kids.

Abdus Samad, grandfather of Meem, a 32-month-old girl who died on April 2, told The Daily Star, “I had breakfast with her in the morning. We talked a lot and she did not show any symptoms of sickness. After some time, she went out and came back ill.”

Asked what she thought was the cause of her daughter’s death, Meem’s mother Asma Begum said, “The doctors could not diagnose the disease.”

During investigation, the IEDCR committee gathered that the farmers in those villages used Furadan or Carbofuran (recently banned in Kenya as it was found killing lions there) on paddy fields.

Besides, some villagers were using organophosphate insecticides like Cypermethrin, Malathion and Chlorpyrifos many times the recommended dose.

Local Agricultural Officer Khairul Alam gave some examples of pesticides being sprayed way more than what is recommended.

Halim, an aubergine farmer in Malancha village, has applied eight to 10 kilograms of Furadan and 63 bottles (120 ml each) of liquid pesticides on his .75-acre land.

“Using that much pesticide is highly dangerous. We don’t even recommend strong pesticides like Furadan for eggplants. He should have used only 600 ml of liquid pesticide and that too in three phases,” said Khairul Alam.

The primary investigation found quite a few examples of excessive use of pesticides.

For instance, Khaleque treats his chilli on a small piece of land with 500 grams of Furadan. Barek applies three kilograms of Furadan for his 2.57-acre paddy, while Shukur treats the edge of his field with rat poison.

Nizam of Malancha village sprayed his mango trees with Chlorpyrifos in the early morning of April 2. His daughter Meem picked a mango from one of the trees at around 7:30am and died within an hour, the IEDCR report states.

Locals said most of the children who were hospitalised and farmers who fell sick became sick in between April 2 and April 14. Each of them commonly showed a sudden onset of symptoms–reduced consciousness, frothy discharge, respiratory distress, constricted pupils and convulsions.

Before expiry, the dogs and calves were bellowing, jerking heads and off feeding, the IEDCR report said.

“Initially, it was hard for us to understand the disease. But as symptoms emerged, we treated the patients for poisoning,” said Dr Nitya Gopal Chowdhury, medical officer (disease control) of Dhamrai upazila health complex.

Asked why the children are more prone to pesticide poisoning, he said, “It’s their weaker resistance to pesticides.”

He said none of the affected children’s breath reeked of pesticide or any chemical, which suggests they did not swallow pesticide.

Meanwhile, IEDCR has launched an awareness campaign against pesticides in those two villages.

It suggests that the villagers not allow their children to go to the paddy and vegetable fields and not use the clay to make toys or oven.

The IEDCR team has collected biological and environmental samples including blood, urine, stool, cough, and breast milk from around 100 villagers.

The samples have been sent abroad for further tests.

Source: The Daily Star, 05 May 2009

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