22 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Take Necessary Steps to Safeguard People Against Paraquat


The value of research can never be overemphasised and the more we interrogate and investigate our different environments, the more we discover ways of solving countless problems bedevilling us, and that would remain with us were it not for new information gleaned through research.

Our quest to adapt to our environment through the adoption of many techniques is anchored on fresh discoveries that push our knowledge frontiers each day, thus improving our quality of life through embracing new and better ways of doing things in all sectors.

The Herald at the weekend carried an article in which the Chinese are said to be planning a ban on the use of paraquat herbicide, following a Chinese national, Sun Jing's research findings that the chemical was highly toxic and unsuitable for continued use.

China, the largest producer of paraquat with production of 100 000 tonnes per year, plans to stop use and manufacture of the chemical by 2016, following the research.

Due to the danger posed by paraquat it is supposed to be used by large scale farmers and under supervision of experts.

Paraquat is an acutely toxic weed killer which destroys plant tissue on contact and is also toxic to animals, with direct skin contact causing death.

Long term exposure can result in Parkinson's disease and skin cancer.

Zimbabwean farmers also use herbicides though the extent of the use of paraquat may not be known, and the degree of exposure by farm workers is yet to be discovered.

Such research findings as the ones from China should spring authorities into action so that we also take the necessary steps to safeguard the health of our people.

It is not only the farmers that are in danger but even communities within their catchment, and ultimately water bodies into which rivers flow.

The Government has banned several other chemicals before, such as DDT, after it was noted that they had adverse effects, and we believe that paraquat should also be gradually phased out and that farmers should be encouraged to shift to an alternative.

We are encouraged by the attitude of the Department of Research and Specialist Services principal director Mrs Danisile Hikwa that it was important for the country to take a cue from China and work towards phasing out the chemical.

The danger posed by paraquat is not a new discovery but probably the scale of its devastation could be the one that jolted the Chinese into action. Paraquat (dipyridylium) was once promoted by the United States for use in Mexico to destroy marijuana plants and research found that this herbicide was dangerous to workers who applied it to the plants.

One must obtain a licence to use the chemical in the US.

Breathing in paraquat may cause lung damage and can lead to a disease called paraquat lung.

Paraquat causes damage to the body when it touches the lining of the mouth, stomach, or intestines.

One can get sick if paraquat touches a cut on their skin and the chemical may also damage the kidneys, liver, and oesophagus with chronic exposure causing pulmonary fibrosis, a stiffening of the lung tissue.

There is a whole range of symptoms of poisoning and it is important for those that may have been using the chemical without due care to be tested so that measures could be taken to safeguard their health.

According to the DRSS, there were huge stocks of the chemical in possession of the farmers and these could take time to clear.

However, we believe it is time the Government considered the impact of the chemical on farm workers and the environment and work towards banning it completely.

There could be other chemicals that are wreaking havoc in our land but due to a lack of research, we could be continuing to import these to our detriment.

It is against this background that we would like to urge local researchers to play their part by embarking on research that adds value to the country.

We cannot always rely on foreign researchers since some of the findings may never be revealed to us, especially if they harm the source nation's commercial interests.

Such concerns over chemicals bring to the fore the likely long-term risks of unlabelled pesticides sold in the streets such as the grainy black rodent killer.

Has any research been carried out on such chemicals?

How and where are these sourced and are the sellers, who appear unskilled in their handling, aware of the danger they are exposing themselves to or years down the line they might constitute a lost generation?

These are pertinent questions that policy makers, researchers and the general public alike should ask.

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