Pesticides banned

In the US, two widely-used pesticides are banned for their toxicity, even as it is used indiscriminately in India

Published: Thursday 30 September 1999

the Environment Protection Agency ( epa ) in the us has decided to phase-out two widely-used pesticides belonging to the organophosphate family -- methyl parathion and azinophos methyl. While the former is toxic and used widely for crops, the latter is used for fruits and many vegetables.

However, the situation is different in India. Authorities have no plans of phasing-out methyl parathion, a commonly used pesticide in the country. "India does not necessarily need to toe the us line," says a doctor at the New Delhi-based Central Insecticide Board. "Besides they are safer than other pesticides and are degradable," he adds. He says that they have been used in India for 30 years, and "could be dangerous only for the farm workers who are exposed to it." This view, however, contradicts epa 's report, which clearly mentions the dangers of using methyl parathion.

The report reveals that "methyl parathion threatens ecology, they are highly toxic to birds, honey bees and aquatic invertebrates." It also states that, "organophosphates cause nausea, dizziness and if too much is used, can cause respiratory paralysis and even death."

"They may be banned in the us , but India cannot follow suit because of economic reasons," says Kamal Parekh, former assistant safety manager of Union Carbide Limited. Moreover, he feels that "it is not completely necessary to ban the pesticides as it is only used in certain agricultural regions like Punjab and Haryana." He also adds that "90 per cent of Indian farmers are poor and cannot even afford to buy seeds, let alone pesticides." Parekh was the first person in Asia to use methyl isocyanide ( mic ) way back in 1972-73.

S B Lall, associate professor in the pharmacology department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences agrees. "There is need for food, more than anything else, in this country. That is why these pesticides cannot be banned," he adds.

Though 21 pesticides are banned in India because of their toxicity, there are around 155 pesticides that are currently in use. Common pesticides like ddt (di-chloro di-phenyl tri chloroethane), bhc (benzene hexachloride), which are already banned in developed countries, are only partially banned in India."

"Methyl parathion is cheap and therefore widely used in India," says Amit Nair, a toxicologist at the Centre for Science and Environment ( cse ). "Methyl parathion is used for agricultural purposes, and most workers handling it do not use any protective gear which leads to illness." According to Lall, "We have a lot of cases related to pesticide or organophosphate poisoning."

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