Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cambodia - Banned Pesticide Found in Water

An acutely toxic chemical agent banned in the US, Canada and the EU is responsible for killing off vulnerable wildlife and sickening villagers in Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces, according to an investigative report issued by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The poisonous chemical was detected after an eight-month investigation in 2015 into the deaths of several vulnerable and critically endangered species – like the large-spotted civet and slender-billed vulture – whose carcasses were found by forest rangers near waterholes in Preah Vihear and Stung Treng’s Siem Pang district.

“Laboratory analyses revealed that those wild animals were poisoned with a very toxic pesticide, Carbofuran, which in many cases had been intentionally spread in the waterhole to capture wild animals,” said Dr. Mathieu Pruvot, who works as a wildlife health and health policy team leader within a branch of WCS. The Wildlife Health and Health Policy (WHHP) team helped carry out the investigation.

“We also found that both livestock and humans were affected in the same areas after drinking the water contaminated with the poison. We are extremely worried that more people may become sick by consuming poisoned animals.”

Classified as an extremely hazardous substance in the United States, Carbofuran is a carbamate pesticide used to control insects in a variety of crops like soybeans, corn and potatoes. In 2009, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the chemical’s use, deeming it “an unacceptable dietary risk, especially to children, from consuming a combination of food and water with Carbofuran residues.”

In humans, Carbofuran poisoning is marked by symptoms of weakness, vomiting, abdominal cramps, sweating, diarrhea, excessive salivation, breathing difficulty and neurological symptoms – even resulting in death from high exposure or delayed treatment. The chemical also causes changes in hormones which can lead to serious reproductive health issues for men and women at low, repeated exposure to the chemical.

In a 2012 health scare in Thailand, vegetables found to contain traces of the toxic agent were swiftly pulled from market shelves and consumer activists called on government officials to ban its use.

The chemical is particularly toxic to birds, and in granular form, can kill a bird with a single grain. Before 1991, when the granular form was banned by the US EPA, it was blamed for millions of bird deaths a  year.

Reports of the chemical being illegally used to intentionally poison wildlife like coyotes, buzzards and other predatory birds were widespread.

The poisonous substance also gained international prominence in 2009 when it was reported that herdsmen in East Africa were using it to poison lions.

“There is growing concern as poisoning is rapidly becoming one of the main threats to Cambodia’s wildlife conservation. Actions are urgently needed,” said Dr. Ross Sinclair, WCS Cambodia country director.

A threat to wildlife conservation and public health, the pesticide is especially dangerous in countries like Cambodia, where the demand for exotic meat is ever present and growing. Secondary poisoning – poisoning that occurs from ingesting an organism that has poison in its system – can occur if the illicit meat is sold and consumed by an unsuspecting buyer.

“It is essential to address the risks posed by the presence of highly toxic pesticides in markets,” said Dr. Robert Newman, Cambodia country director for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“And it is urgent to develop more laboratory capacity in the country to detect the presence of toxic chemicals in the environment, food items and biological samples from affected people and animals.”

The detailed report, titled “Carbofuran Poisoning at the Interface between Wildlife, Livestock, and Humans,” was presented to the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Environment in June 2016. According to WCS, the ministries are “taking the matter seriously and hoping to take initial steps to address this issue.”

Dr. Ly Sovann, director of the Communicable Disease Control Department in Cambodia, expressed deep concern about the findings.

“It is a significant concern, and a serious threat for wildlife and public health. This issue requires immediate attention to protect Cambodia’s wildlife and the Cambodian people.”

Safiya Charles

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