Hundreds of products of nearly a hundred pesticides, considered dangerous by different international agencies, including the United Nation’s World Health Organisation, are in wide use in Bangladesh, raising health and environmental concerns.
Applications of some of the pesticides have either been banned or restricted in many countries while others are under review for their potential adverse impacts on health and environment.
Thousands of tonnes of these pesticides are being imported and applied on crops in the country every year.
In 2017, Bangladesh imported more than 15,106 tonnes of active ingredients to formulate 37,187 tonnes of pesticide products, almost 6 per cent rise in pesticide supply compared to the year before, according to Bangladesh Crop Protection Association.
Bangladesh Agricultural University agricultural chemistry professor Zakir Hossain said that use of pesticide was expected to raise food production to feed a huge population of 160 million from as tiny a landscape as Bangladesh.
‘But Bangladesh needs to be very careful in selecting which pesticides to be used as the dangerous ones could put food safety in danger and bring in severe health consequences,’ Zakir warned.
According to the plant protection wing at Department of Agricultural Extension, as many as 5,661 products of 359 pesticides are permitted to be used in the country.
While reviewing the list, 90 were found categorised as hazardous either by WHO or Pesticide Action Network, better known as PAN, since 2009 and only 14 of them have 2,037 products.
‘The risks of having too many dangerous pesticides are many,’ said BAU teacher Zakir.
Besides making monitoring a difficult task, such a huge number of pesticides also lead to an unhealthy competition in which businessmen often adopt illegal means to maximise their profits, Zakir notes.
‘Pesticide business is the business of poison. It should not go out of control,’ he noted.
The most used pesticide in Bangladesh, Carbofuran, is sold in 255 different brand names to be applied on crops like rice, brinjal, potato, sugarcane and tea.
In 2017, about 7,000 tonnes of Carbofuran pesticides were applied in the country.
WHO enlisted Carbofuran as highly hazardous for its potential to create acute or chronic toxic effects on nerves, particularly among children.
Environmental Protection Agency of the USA also alerted people against its damaging impacts on nervous and reproductive systems.
The European Union banned its use nine years ago. It is also banned in Canada. The USA is reviewing the pesticide after restricting its use.
Australia is phasing out Carbofuran and currently allows only two of its products to be used under conditions.
Emamectin Benzoate, a pesticide considered highly hazardous by PAN, is sold in 230 different brand names and permitted to be applied on rice, potato, brinjal, bean, tomato, tea, rose, jute and cotton.
The European Chemical Agency found the substance to be damaging to organs and is toxic even when it comes in contact with skin.
Endosulfan, known as dirty pesticide and banned in more than 80 countries, can still be found on the list of registered pesticides in Bangladesh.
A US-Bangla joint study published last year linked Endosulfan poisoning in litchi to the deaths of 13 children in Dinajpur in 2012.
‘Authorities do not seem to worry about the health of our people or environment anyway,’ said Jahangirnagar University environmental science department professor Kabir Uddin.
‘They are only after increasing production,’ said Kabir.
Farmers are immediate victims of these dangerous substances as most of them do not even care about reading pesticide labels or wearing protection gear while applying pesticides in fields, Kabir says.
Another widely used highly dangerous pesticide is Clorpyrifos. Its farm use in the USA was banned by a court on August 10, 18 years after the ban of its home use. Europe banned its commercial and domestic uses in 2008.
Singapore restricted its use in 2009 and Sweden never allowed it to enter the country.
Chlorpyrifos is sold in 466 different brand names and is permitted to be applied on rice, potato, sugarcane, tea, jute and cotton. Its consumption was nearly a thousand tonnes last year.
The pesticide is so toxic that about half a cup of concentrated Chlorpyrifos washed down the drain was responsible for killing fishes, insects, and shrimp along a stretch of 15 km of the River Kennet in the UK in July 2013.
‘We care the least about the environment while selecting pesticides,’ said Department of Environment director Ziaul Haque.
Zia, who represents his office at DAE’s pesticide technical advisory committee, better known as PTAC, said that they never tested any pesticide for its impact on the environment.
He said that their consent for the use of a pesticide was based on the documents provided by businessmen.
‘It cannot go on like this. It has to be stopped,’ Zia demanded.
Professor Mahbubur Rahman, who was PTAC member for 20 years, said that health impacts of pesticides were also never studied in Bangladesh.
‘The entire process of pesticide registration is based on review of product literature,’ said Mahbub.
Pesticide management is very strict in developed countries where it takes years of field trial to get a pesticide registered. It remains under constant review so that dangerous ones could be replaced with safer alternatives.
In April, the European Union banned three pesticides held responsible for severely harming bees.
Two of the three banned pesticides — imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — are marketed in Bangladesh in 290 brand names and applied on more than a dozen crops. Last year Bangladesh used 31 tonnes of it.
As Bangladesh does not have a system of evaluation of its own, it is likely that it will continue using the pesticides for many years to come until more countries ban it leading to its global ban by WHO and FAO.
DAE plant protection wing director Amitav Das said that they followed WHO and FAO to take action against pesticides.
He said that DAE was not allowing any new products of Carbofuran, Glyphosate and Paraquat pesticides.
‘We will discuss at next PTAC meeting whether or not we should ban the dangerous pesticides,’ said Amitav.
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