By Ismail Abbas
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Exposure to pesticides both occupationally and environmentally causes a range of human health problems. It is estimated that nearly 10,000 deaths annually can be attributed to the use of chemical pesticide worldwide. Humans are exposed to pesticides found in environmental media (soil, water, air and food) by different routes of exposure such as inhalation, ingestion and dermal contact. Pesticides most commonly used in Lebanon include organophosphates, pyrethroids, biperidyl, dithiocarbamates and many others. Exposure to these pesticides or hazardous chemicals leads to several health problems that range from asthma attacks to skin rashes as well as chronic disorders like emphysema and cancer.

Consequently, there is an urgent need to initiate action to counter the health hazards posed by the use of such pesticides. Also there is a need to draw the focus of all individuals, families, communities and nations to this crucial issue and raise the demand for lesser exposure of the pesticides to humans and animals. The government should introduce a law banning the superficial use of pesticides, while the communities create health awareness among the public by organizing campaigns that would highlight the evil effects of pesticide use. In addition, the government should introduce incentives to encourage as well as support the organic food cultivators, make it mandatory for all pesticide manufacturers to disclose all the ingredients in their products and enact legislation regarding ‘reverse onus’ whereby the producers will be responsible for the safety of the people using their pesticides. This must be accompanied by licensing pesticide applicators and dealers, registering pesticides and performing inspections and investigations in the enforcement of the Pesticide Use Act and the Pesticide Registration Act. These investigations and inspections include, but are not always limited to: Farmers training, Pesticide Use and Follow-up, Applicator Establishment, Marketplace, Records of Use and Sales, Direct Supervision of Technicians, Producer Establishment and Experimental Use.

In addition, there needs to be legislation to demand evidence of the safety of products before they are launched in the market. Kfarshima laboratory, as claimed by Agriculture Minister Dr Hajj Hassan, is equipped with personnel and facilities to perform the necessary tests and issue the required certificates.

Communities and governments should work together toward achieving a total ban on all pesticides that are detrimental to human health. To make this a success, both need to back the cultivators and other crop growers economically so that they change from using pesticides to growing plants organically. In fact, the money that would be saved from spending on health care or treating people affected by exposure to pesticides could be used to support these programs.

Dr Ismail Abbas Lecturer of Physical and Organic Chemistry Beirut Arab University Beirut in Lebanon.