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A Toxics-Free Future


Rampant use of pesticides for vegetable cultivation raises serious concerns

Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands president Ramakrishnan Ramasamy says the biggest worry is that banned pesticides, including Endosulfan, are found in treated water in Cameron Highlands as well. — TRP pix by Fong Kee Soon  

Banned pesticides known to have an adverse impact on humans and the environment have been found not only in streams but also in tap water.

This has raised grave concerns about the impact the chemicals will have on health and the environmental.

Pesticides which had been banned in many countries including Malaysia, were found in five sites sampled. The studies were conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia at the Bertam and Terla rivers, as well as on tap water in Brinchang.

The pesticides include the deadly Endosulfan which is a highly acute toxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor banned in 2005 under the Pesticides Act 1974.

In expressing its grave concern on the findings, Regional advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (Panap) said the nine pesticides found were Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), a set of toxic chemicals that were persistent in the environment and able to last for several years before breaking down.

Panap programme officer Deepa Ravindran said POPs accumulated in the food chain and in humans, travelled long distances from the place where it was used and broke down very slowly in the environment.

She said there was need to question on who was profiting from the sale of these banned pesticides.

“We need to have an awareness building programme with farmers to stop using POPs and other highly toxic substances.

“They are not the source of the problem but are trying to earn a livelihood,” she said.

She added that although the pesticides were still below permissible levels, they should not have been there at all as they had already been banned.

Sarojeni Rengam, Panap executive director said although the study did not include the testing of food for pesticides residue, it was a matter of public safety and interest for consumers to be aware of the levels of pesticide residue present.

“We urge the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to make this information available to consumers for them to make informed decisions.

“Researchers and competent authorities need to conduct more investigations to determine pesticide contamination in Cameron Highlands,” she said.

Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands (Reach) president Ramakrishnan Ramasamy said the biggest worry was that the pesticides including Endosulfan were found in treated water as well.

He said no one had ever been prosecuted for selling or using banned pesticides, describing the current situation in Cameron Highlands as a free-for-all.

It is an offence to posses or use a banned pesticide and those found guilty will be fined RM10,000 or a year’s jail.

“Farmers do not hesitate to use the banned pesticides as they are more concerned that the veggies will not turn out good enough to take them
to the market.

“Foreign workers who could not read labels also contributed to the rampant use of pesticides.”

Ramakrishnan said the buyers and sellers of banned pesticides conducted their trade using code names such as ‘Hennessy’.

He added the banned pesticides were usually kept under the counter and sold only to familiar faces.

He urged the government to investigate how the banned pesticides were entering the country from China and Thailand.

“I don’t know how strong the enforcement is, but it seems the relevant government departments are not doing anything,” he claimed.

He also claimed that most farmers would not eat the vegetables they grew for sale, which meant they understood fully the effects of the banned pesticides.

Ramakrishnan said the findings should not be a deterrent to the public to visit Cameron Highlands.

“They should instead be motivated to fight for the preservation of Cameron Highlands by calling for the necessary reforms.”