After poisoning downs 24 students in Port Dickson, Malaysia: PANAP calls for pesticide-free buffer zones around schools

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Penang, Malaysia—Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PANAP) calls on the Malaysian government to institute a pesticide-free buffer zone around schools after students in Port Dickson fell seriously ill during their classes due to exposure to suspected pesticide fumes from a nearby chili farm.

According to news reports, 13 out of the 24 affected students of Sekolah Kebangsaan Linggi had to be rushed to the hospital last July 18 after experiencing nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and blurred vision. The hospitalised students were last reported to be in stable condition.

Students aged 9 to 12 said that odorous fumes permeated the air while they were taking an examination, and that they experienced symptoms shortly thereafter.

“We express our concern for the children affected in this incident in Port Dickson. All the symptoms they described point to acute pesticide poisoning. Authorities should thoroughly investigate the incident, make responsible parties accountable, and take steps to ensure that it does not happen again—in that school or anywhere else in Malaysia. A pesticide-free buffer zone around schools will be a good starting point,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director.

PANAP has an ongoing petition for governments to adopt a pesticide-free buffer zone of at least one kilometer around schools to protect children, particularly from spray drifts and aerial spraying of pesticides. Around 1.5 billion children in Asia are estimated to live in rural areas, making them vulnerable to exposure to Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs).

Pesticides are particularly toxic to children. Studies have shown that pesticides can cause irreparable damage to children’s physical and mental development. Children’s exposure to HHPs violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises the child’s “inherent right to life” and that the survival and development of the child should be ensured to the “maximum extent possible.”

PANAP has documented how some schools in Cambodia and Vietnam have adopted pesticide-free buffer zones, through the efforts of local organisations, school and government authorities. “We have seen how the health and well-being of students have greatly improved upon the setting up of pesticide-free buffer zones around schools. These have also encouraged farmers to switch to agroecological alternatives to pesticides. We hope to see similar efforts done to protect Malaysian children,” Rengam concluded.###

Reference: Deeppa Ravindran, Protect Our Children From Toxic Pesticides Campaign Coordinator, deeppa.ravindran@panap.net.

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