To avoid ‘human error,’ ban malathion in Malaysia–PANAP

Isolation room at the Hospital Port Dickson where Sekolah Kebangsaan Linggi students who inhaled a malathion-based pesticide were treated. Photo credit: Bernama

Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PANAP) urged the Malaysian government to set up pesticide-free buffer zones around schools and ban malathion, the Highly Hazardous Pesticide (HHP) linked to the poisoning of students in Port Dickson last July 18.

According to Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Sim Tze Tzin, a malathion-based pesticide was sprayed at a chili plantation located 500 meters from Sekolah Kebangsaan Linggi. The wind carried the fumes into the school, affecting 283 children who were taking an examination. A total of 32 students had to be medically treated after experiencing nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and blurred vision.

Authorities pointed out that the incident occurred because of “human error,” or because farm workers were not properly trained in handling pesticides. This affirms PANAP’s findings in its report Of Rights and Poisons that majority or 72% of farmers surveyed in seven countries in the Asia Pacific region are not trained in the proper handling of pesticides. “While it is good that the incident has served to remind the Agriculture Department and farm owners of their responsibility to train workers on handling pesticides, we must point out that as long as Highly Hazardous Pesticides are used, no farming community will be safe from exposure,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP Executive Director.

Malathion, an organophosphate, is on the list of HHPs that the Pesticide Action Network has identified for worldwide elimination because of their inhalation toxicity, endocrine disruption, and toxicity to terrestial and aquatic organisms, among others. Malathion is also one of the “Terrible Twenty” pesticides identified by PANAP to be extremely toxic to children. Long-term exposure can cause nerve damage, loss of IQ and memory among children.

“The Agriculture Department has admitted that the use of malathion is not suitable for use in chili farms. It begs the question, just how rampant is the unapproved use of malathion and other Highly Hazardous Pesticides? If we are to observe the precautionary principle and refuse to put more people, especially children, at risk, malathion should be banned outright,” Rengam said.

As a preventive measure, PANAP also urges Malaysian authorities to enact a pesticide-free buffer zone around schools. “Pesticide-free buffer zones of at least one kilometer around schools can easily be set up. It will benefit children’s health enormously, and can also encourage farmers to switch to agroecological practices in the long run,” Rengam added.

PANAP supports the use of the Agriculture Department’s Malaysia Good Agricultural Practise (myGAP) and MyOrganic standards in farms around schools.###

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

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