Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A new campaign is underway to pressure Syngenta to stop production of paraquat, one of the world's most deadly pesticides. Syngenta markets this broad-spectrum herbicide in more than 100 countries under the brand name Gramoxone. Paraquat is applied to bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, palm oil, pineapple, rubber, and sugar cane on large plantations as well as small farms.
The herbicide is highly toxic, with no known antidote. Less than one teaspoon, if ingested, is fatal. Skin contact alone can cause systemic damage. Even at very low levels of exposure, paraquat can cause, among other symptoms, severe dermatitis, second degree burns, a rash all over the body, and discolored or itching hands. Paraquat's extreme toxicity makes protective clothing such as rubber aprons, rubber gloves, full face shields and rubber boot coverings essential for mixers and applicators. But in reality the herbicide is extensively used in warm and humid climates where such clothing is intolerable or unavailable. In these conditions paraquat poses an unacceptable threat to worker health and safety.
Interviews in March 2002 with women on Indonesian palm oil estates describe routine exposure through leaking knapsack sprayers, spray drift, and walking through sprayed vegetation. They link the spraying of paraquat every second day to their symptoms of blurred vision, breathing difficulties, skin damage and diarrhea.
Several substitutes for paraquat exist. Chiquita and the Fair Trade Organizations have already banned paraquat from their production. A new report published by several members of the campaign against paraquat includes case studies in developing countries in which crop rotation, mulching, intercropping (planting cover crops) are effectively employed for sustainable non-chemical weed control.
Support the international campaign by sending a letter or email to the chairman of the board of directors of Syngenta, asking him to stop production of paraquat. To send a letter and stay in touch with the campaign, visit the Berne Declaration Web site (a Swiss-based organization for sustainable development) http://www.evb.ch/. (Note: to use the automatic email form, you will need to register at the Web site.)
PAN Pesticide Database http://www.pesticideinfo.org/; Paraquat: Syngenta's controversial herbicide, Berne Declaration (Switzerland), Foro Emaus (Costa Rica), Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia Pacific (Malaysia), PAN UK (UK) and Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Sweden), April 2002, http://www.evb.ch/; Poisoned and Silenced: A study of pesticide poisoning in the plantations, Tenaganita and PAN Asia and the Pacific, Malaysia, March 2002; Paraquat in developing countries, Central American Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances (IRET), Universidad Nacional, Heredia, Costa Rica, International Journal of Occupational Health, 24 July 2001.