Toxic farm chemicals take a toll on lives

national September 10, 2018 01:00

By Chularat Saengpassa
The Nation

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Nearly 600 people killed annually: NHSO



THE effects of widely used farm chemicals have led to at least 1,715 deaths over the past three years.

“The deaths of nearly 600 people each year are directly a result of the use of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides,” National Health Security Office (NHSO) secretary-general Dr Sakchai Kanjana-wattana said recently, referring to statistics from the universal healthcare scheme. He said such figures were compiled with clear evidence. 

According to him, organophosphate and carbamates insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides send some 5,000 people on average to hospitals each year. Their treatment costs about Bt22 million annually. 

“Even with medical help, some have succumbed,” Sakchai said.

Dr Sakchai

In the 2016 fiscal year, 4,924 people came to hospitals because of toxic effects from farm chemicals. Of them, 1,394 suffered from organophosphate and carbamates insecticides while 2,063 others fell ill because of herbicides and fungicides. The rest developed health problems because of exposure to pesticides. 

In Thailand, the fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30. In fiscal 2017, 4,983 patients in the universal healthcare scheme were treated for toxic effects from dangerous farm chemicals.

Organophosphate and carbamates insecticides struck 1,299 of them while herbicides and fungicides harmed 2,234 others. The health problems of the rest arose from pesticides. 

From October 1 last year to July this year, such dangerous farm chemicals directly harmed the health of at least 4,000 people, 520 of whom died. “When we look into the details, Health Zone 1 has had the highest number of such cases,” Sakchai said. 

Health Zone 1 covers Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Rai, Phrae, Nan and Phayao provinces. There are 13 health zones in the country. 

Statistics show there were 748 and 750 patients suffering from the toxic effects of farm chemicals in Health Zone 1 in 2016 and 2017 fiscal years respectively. 

Sakchai said the danger from farm chemicals could be more extensive in reality considering the statistics compiled by his agency only focused on the direct impact. 

“It’s undeniable that these farm chemicals will likely have long-term impacts on people’s health via contaminated crops and the environment too,” he said. 

According to the Thailand Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-PAN), voluntary blood tests conducted on 612 visitors to a fair on herbs and food between August 29 and September 2 found that they had been contaminated with farm chemicals. 

Of those undergoing blood tests, 377 or 61.6 per cent had a risky level of contamination. As many as 118 others or 19.3 per cent had been dangerously contaminated. Some 116 others have been contaminated, but within the safe level. 

Of those tested, only one had very little or insignificant level of contamination. 

The Thai-PAN, in collaboration with the Bang Po Hospital, has carried out these blood tests to remind consumers that farm-chemical toxicity is not a distant threat. 

“Let me tell you that contamination is more frequent and higher among consumers, when compared with farmers,” Thai-PAN coordinator Prokchol Ousap said. 

She said her organisation would submit test results to the Public Health Ministry for monitoring, and would try to raise the issue with the Agriculture Ministry. 

Sakchai said the NHSO was aware of the farm chemicals’ threat and hence supported Public Health Minister Dr Piyasakol Sakolsataya-dorn’s move to push for a total ban on paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos.

Though the ministry’s Disease Control Department compiles records of patients suffering from exposure to farm chemicals every year, the figures are still many times lower than what the NHSO has recorded. 

This is because the NHSO has received direct information from people suffering from the toxic effects of farm chemicals. 

The Public Health Ministry has pushed for a complete ban on paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos since last year. The Hazardous Substance Committee has to date only resolved to ban these widely used farm chemicals in farms that produce household vegetables and herbs. In other words, the ban does not apply to the plantation of economic crops.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Wiwat Salyakamthorn, who openly vowed to fight for a total ban at the recent herb and food fair, is reportedly in troubled waters. Rumours during the past week suggested that Wiwat might lose his post because of his remarks relating to farm chemicals. 

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