At least 13 cases of acute and chronic pesticide poisonings in five years

Between 2012 and 2017, 13 patients have been admitted to hospitals in Malta and Gozo due to acute and chronic pesticide poisonings

According to the Department of Environmental Health, between 2013 and 2018, 19 products were taken off the market due to pesticide residue
According to the Department of Environmental Health, between 2013 and 2018, 19 products were taken off the market due to pesticide residue

A total of 13 patients were admitted to hospitals in Malta and Gozo due to acute and chronic pesticide poisonings between 2013 and 2017.

This week in Parliament Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne tabled a list of these cases according to data collected by the National Hospitals Information Systems (NHIS).

Fearne emphasised that the list of 13 cases does not include patients who were examined at the Emergency Department at Mater Dei and who weren’t admitted to a hospital ward for some reason or other.

The NHIS data does not clarify how the patients concerned were poisoned but the report states that the individuals concerned suffered the effects mostly due to accidental poisoning through pesticide exposure.

Fearne also tabled data on crops and products that were recalled from the market due to being contaminated with pesticide residue after PN MP Jason Azzopardi demanded the information in Parliament back in September of last year.

According to the Department of Environmental Health, between 2013 and 2018, 19 products were taken off the market due to pesticide residue.

One of these products was baby food. It was recalled because it contained a residue of Didecyldimethylammonium Chloride, an antiseptic often used as disinfectant cleaner.

The substance, though research is inconclusive so far, has been found to cause rashes, numbness, nausea and headaches in human beings and reduced liver function and fertility in certain rodents according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

The data tabled by Fearne also showed that two contaminated batches of Goji berries in 2017 and 2018 were not recalled in time and were sold to unsuspecting customers.

In the 2017 case, the Goji berries contained traces of Propargite and in 2018, the same product contained traces of Nicotine.

Back in November 2017, the Environmental Health Directorate within the Superintendence of Public Health issued a warning regarding Goji berries, telling the public not to consume this product since it contained Propargite.

In accordance with the Food Safety Act and Regulation (EC) No. 178 of 2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Propargite was not in compliance with safety procedure due to this pesticide being potentially carcinogenic.

The substance is likely to increase the probability of fatal tumours of the intestine according to USEPA.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Jeanette Borg, founder of Malta Youth in Agriculture Foundation (MYAF), said that a lot has been said with regards to pesticides but little has been done.

“The issue is twofold. On one hand we are being invaded by new pests across our borders and on the other hand we are not conducting enough research on the ground to tackle such pests,” she said, adding that farmers needed to be seen as a solution and not a problem.

Borg argued that unless more Human Resources and expertise are allocated to government departments related to plant health and pesticides, the problems would persist.

“Farmers need to be given more support in a system that has failed them.”

While farmers have undergone training, Maltese produce failed the highest number of pesticide tests in Europe just last year.

In 2018, the European Commission said that Maltese and Cypriot farmers were the only ones amongst the European member states to not have their pesticide sprayers inspected by authorities.

The European Food Safety Authority found in July of last year that one in ten local products were sprayed with chemicals over the legal limit.

Bromide was the most common chemical found, a substance that is acutely toxic, especially in its fumigant state, with inhalations of the substance commonly causing severe problems to lungs and the skin. Around 1,000 poisoning incidents documented by USEPA saw effects ranging from skin and eye irritation to breathing problems, depression, irritability and even death.

Local tomatoes sampled in June were found with traces of pesticides way over the legal excess, in breach of the allowed maximum residue levels. Boscalid, Cyazofamid, Lufenuron and Clorfenapyr were chemicals found in the samples, substances that have been found by USEPA to cause liver and kidney problems amongst other things.

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