By THE NATION
THE CALLS for a ban on the use of paraquat and two other farm chemicals seen as dangerous are growing louder again, as a government-appointed panel is set to discuss the issue at its first meeting tomorrow.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha set up the panel in June to explore solutions to the problem of farm chemicals with high risks, after loud protests from environmentalists and activists who were frustrated that the Hazardous Substance Committee (HSC) had failed to ban paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos. Deputy Prime Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana chairs the panel.
“The HSC formed its decision based on a flawed executive summary,” BioThai Foundation director Witoon Lianchamroon said yesterday, “We hope the new panel will act in the best interests of people. If its opinion is the same as the HSC, we will make our moves.”
He was speaking in Bangkok at a time when a major hospital in Nong Bua Lamphu province reported that the number of cases of necrotising fasciitis or flesh-eating disease had reduced after locals were educated about the risks of contaminated water sources.
“In fiscal year 2018 [which ends on September 30], our hospital to date has treated only 68 patients. The disease has caused two deaths but the figures are a steep drop from previous years,” Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital deputy director Dr Paitoon Baiprasert said.
In fiscal year 2017, the hospital treated 102 patients of whom six died. In fiscal year 2014, as many as 137 people sought treatments for necrotising fasciitis, of whom seven died.
Paitoon attributed the drop in patient numbers to the fact that the locals were now better aware about how to minimise risks such as avoiding exposure to possibly contaminated water. During the past year, it has been widely reported that there was high concentration of paraquat in Nong Bua Lamphu, likely because of the excessive use of the chemical in local farmlands. Reports have also cited research findings that hint at a possible link between the disease and the farm chemical.
Paraquat has been banned in 53 nations, including Laos and Cambodia.
Witoon yesterday accused an HSC ad-hoc committee of deliberately downplaying the risks of paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos.
“For example, the report prepared by this ad-hoc committee cited the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 report to claim that glyphosate has low toxicity but it did not mention that the same report also said paraquat could cause sudden death. Just one sip of it can be fatal,” he said. He said his foundation and 700 other allies would file a complaint against the HSC with the Central Administrative Court over its decision to not ban the three dangerous farm chemicals.
Thailand Pesticide Alert Network coordinator Prokchol Ousap lamented the current situation despite the Public Health Ministry deciding last year that paraquat and chlorpyrifos should be banned, and the use of glyphosate should also be restricted.
An informed source said that the National Reform Council’s committee on public health would today address the risks from these three dangerous farm chemicals.