SLC and Agriculture Ministry On A Collision Course

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The Sri Lanka Customs (SLC) on a collision course with the Agriculture Ministry continues to insist some nine containers holding imported weedicides, insecticides and fungicides contain toxic levels of arsenic while the Ministry has rejected allegations that banned chemicals have been included in pesticides used in the country.
A senior officer from SLC who spoke to The Sunday Leader on conditions of anonymity said that a campaign has been launched to bring pressure on the Department as well as on a group of doctors and academics who had discovered the inclusion of banned chemicals in pesticides, weedicides and fungicides imported to the country for agricultural purposes.
The Customs Department had seized the consignment of pesticides, weedicides and fungicides following a revelation made by a group of doctors headed by Lecturer of the Rajarata University Dr. Channa Jayasumana on arsenic poisoning that has affected the people of the North Central Province and it’s adjoining areas.
Following extensive research carried out since last December, Dr. Jayasumana and his group announced that the main cause of kidney disease, renal failure and heart disease in the North Central Province was due to calcium arsenate.
Soon after details of Dr. Jayasumana’s research were published in the media, the Customs Department seized a consignment of pesticides and found arsenic and mercury in the consignment.
An initial test carried out by the Customs Department at the Kelaniya University in the presence of the companies that had imported the seized consignment, claimed to have detected banned chemicals like arsenic and mercury in the pesticides, weedicides and fungicides, said the SLC officer.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that arsenic could be found in many food items including drinking water. He explained that the Sri Lanka Standards Institute has a set of standards in relation to food contaminants that alllows certain amounts of arsenic in food items. He said that chocolates and drinking water contained low levels of arsenic that are within the permitted quantities.
He also observed that there was a certain amount of arsenic even in the soil.
Nevertheless, Abeywardena assured that rice produced in the country did not contain any arsenic.
Dr. Jayasumana, whose research led to the finding of arsenic in pesticides, refuted the Minister’s claim that the country’s soil contained arsenic.
“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2009 classification, arsenic is stated as a highly hazardous active ingredient,” he said, adding that arsenic has now entered the country’s natural process.
He explained that the research team had carried out soil tests and the soil profiles had indicated a high level of arsenic in the topmost layers of soil. “That means the arsenic was not a natural component of the soil and has entered through an external source,” he said.
He said that the discovery of arsenic in pesticides was made while trying to determine the cause for the increased number of kidney diseases and related deaths in the North Central Province and the adjoining areas.
“After many tests were done to determine the cause, we began to check whether the diseases were caused by arsenic. That was when we found that arsenic together with the high levels of calcium in the water in the area resulted in the formation of calcium arsenate that poisoned the people,” Dr. Jayasumana said.
According to Dr. Jayasumana, arsenic could cause cancer, diabetes, heart and kidney diseases and lower resistance to viral flu.
He added that rice was not the only food commodity affected by arsenic, as there were many other crops that had been affected by the chemical. “In forensic terms, 0.2g of arsenic is a fatal dose. Therefore, the accumulation of arsenic in the body parts through food would cause irreparable damage to the human body,” he pointed out.
Dr. Jayasumana says that the only way to overcome these issues is to resort to the ancient methods of farming that did not use any chemicals.

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Posted by sanjeewa
on Jun 19 2011. Filed under Lead, On The Spot.
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