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Paraquat is the most highly toxic herbicide on the global pesticide market. As little as one half teaspoon, if ingested, is a lethal dose, and there is no antidote. The herbicide has been banned or restricted in 13 countries, primarily for its health risk. However, paraquat is still used on more than 50 crops in 120 countries. Syngenta, which sells paraquat as Gramoxone, describes the product as the world’s second largest selling agrochemical.
In developing countries, paraquat is often applied under hazardous conditions because hot and humid conditions make it impractical to wear the protective equipment required by this high-risk herbicide, or the equipment simply may not be available.
In Malaysia most pesticide sprayers are women, and many have reported frequent and chronic paraquat exposure. A PAN Asia Pacific report in 2002 found that women plantation workers used backpack pesticide sprayers for an average of 262 days each year, most without the use of protective clothing. The acute paraquat poisoning symptoms suffered by sprayers included nosebleeds, tearing of the eyes, contact dermatitis, skin irritation and sores, nail discoloration, dropping of the nails, and abdominal ulcerations. After repeated use, paraquat has been found to break down normal skin barriers and increase absorption levels. Dr Irene Fernandez, of the Malaysian group Tenaganita, reports that Poison Center data from 1987-1997 attributes 27% of the nation’s fatal cases of pesticide poisoning to paraquat, in which accidents or exposure occurred under normal conditions of use by workers.
The Malaysian government announced the paraquat ban in 2002, setting a deadline of July 2005 for Syngenta to withdraw all products containing paraquat from the country. PAN Asia Pacific reports that industry pressure was behind the government’s reconsideration of paraquat, despite the fact that Malaysia had already filed notice of the ban with the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC Treaty), accelerating a global notification process for importing the herbicide.
To email the Malaysian government and urge them to keep the ban on paraquat, visit: http://ga4.org/campaign/Paraquat_Ban.
Sources: Press Release, PAN Asia Pacific, April 15, 2005; Paraquat, Syngenta’s Controversial Herbicide, Berne Declaration, April 2002, http://www.evb.ch; Paraquat Summary, PAN Asia Pacific, August 2003, http://www.panap.net
Contact: PAN Asia Pacific, email@example.com, in Penang, Malaysia Tel. (60 4) 657-0271, or PANNA.