Toxic, lethal exposure

DESPITE being banned in 32 countries around the world for its toxicity and adverse effect on humans, farmers in Fiji continue to use paraquat in their farms, exposing themselves daily to its lethal side effects.

According to a report by the Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PANAP), paraquat is the most highly acute toxic herbicide to be marketed over the past 60 years and is still widely used in the world.

Released in 2011, the report noted Fiji as one of the countries where the herbicide was still used adding that it may have been linked to the death of a woman who consumed lobster illegally caught through the use of the substance in 2010.

While the World Health Organization labelled paraquat as a moderately toxic substance, the European Commission has described the chemical as acutely hazardous; very toxic by inhalation, contact, causes serious damage to health by prolonged exposure and an irritant to the eyes, respiratory system and skin.

According to the PANAP research, paraquat damages the lungs, heart, kidneys, adrenal glands, central nervous system, liver, muscles and spleen, causing multi-organ failure, as well as damaging the skin and eyes.

Local farming group Teitei Taveuni’s Australian volunteer Nicole Canning said the herbicide would soon be banned in Australia and New Zealand, adding that as large export markets they may refuse buying dalo from Fiji if traces of paraquat were found in them.

Ms Canning said a number of farmers had realised the negative effects of the chemical-based herbicide on both their health and the fertility of their soils so they had opted to use organic substitutes.

She added changing the trend of reliance on chemical based herbicides to organic options must be made by the Government.

“If Government wants to ban the use of chemicals it will help us in what we are trying to do and in the long run save lives and ensure the fertility of our soils,” she said.

Responding to these concerns Ministry of Agriculture director for Research, Dr Apaitia Macanawai said farmers in the country were using paraquat for weed control, especially during the dalo’s growth period.

Dr Macanawai said paraquat was an effective herbicide for the immediate killing of weeds, particularly annual plants in high rainfall countries such as Fiji.

“The herbicide is rapidly absorbed by the plants within minutes before or after any rain,” he said.

“There is no herbicide that is currently available in Fiji which is equally as good as paraquat considering its contact mode of action and fast acting on target weeds but cheaper as well.”

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