Sun 24th Sep 2006

Vincentians' health needs higher priority

In recent articles about 'fogging' by Mary Stanish Thompson and concerns voiced by head nurses over children's obesity, it is clear that the nation's health needs to be given higher priority. What is off great concern to me is the continued use and overuse of Gramoxone. Gramoxone's active ingredient is Paraquat. Paraquat is highly toxic to animals and has serious and irreversible effects if absorbed. As little as one teaspoonful of the active ingredient is fatal. No antidote for poisoning exists. The ULP government is using Vincentians' money to subsidise herbicides. One could say that the ULP is subsidising the possible premature deaths and illness of many Vincentians.

Health effects

In occupational use, the main route of exposure is through the skin and the worst cases of exposure occur during knapsack spraying. A paper published in 2001 analysed the health effects of paraquat in developing countries. Effects documented were:

• skin problems ranging from mild irritation, burns, ulceration, peeling, necrosis (cell death in skin tissue), dermatitis of the hand and blistering on hands, thighs, legs, back and scrotum;

• eye injuries including blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), conjunctivitis, ulceration or keratosis (growth like a wart) of the cornea;

• severe exposure on hands can lead to nail damage, ranging from localised discolouration to temporary nail loss;

• nose bleeds resulting from local irritation of the upper respiratory tract, burning sensation in the nose;

• systemic paraquat poisoning is characterized by burns of the upper digestive tract; and multi-organ failure, including the lungs, liver, and kidneys and less frequently the central nervous system, heart, suprarenal glands and muscles. In fatal cases death is due to respiratory failure from pulmonary oedema or pulmonary fibrosis up to 30 days after the event. While fatalities are generally suicide cases, one study identified 15 unintentional fatal poisonings, including five due to contact with diluted spray solution;

• some chronic effects have been identified: a weak association with developmental and reproductive effects, and a link to Parkinson's disease.

Banned or restricted

Paraquat is banned in Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland, Finland and Sweden; the EU is currently deciding whether to re-register it. It is banned or severely restricted in Indonesia, Kuwait and Malaysia.

Healthy option

A healthy way forward for all is organic farming. The ULP government is putting people's health at risk and wasting money and economic opportunity by subsidising and promoting Gramoxone. SVG should be exporting organic bananas to western markets such as the USA, the EU and Canada. If we are not then it seems that organisations that are meant to help farmers are napping. Three-quarters of all bananas exported from the Dominican Republic are now certified organic and associated growers receive an organic premium for their crops (about 20% higher than conventional prices). The Food and Agricultural Organisation says the prospects for growth of organic banana sales appear to be good in all major markets, though further growth is limited by the lack of supply! What's happening in SVG? What are the ULP up to? It seems that farmers and their families are missing out on economic opportunities and being unnecessarily exposed to health risks.

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