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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Arsenic upheaval and the hipocracy of the Academia

The Island, 30/06/2011,

Had someone studied thoughtfully the development of the "Arsenic Issue" in the media. It would be very obvious that sonic groups with vested interests were trying to cover up the core issue of importing banned agro-chemicals into the country. At the very initial stage of uproar when Kelaniya-Rajarata Research Team (KART) raised the Arsenic issue by attributing it with chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Eitiology (CKDUE), the bureaucracy responded negatively with a prejudice. They, while totally rejecting the research hypothesis of KRRT, overdid the counter propaganda to disprove the claims of containing Arsenic in rice. It was appallingly so obvious that the clamour was the toot of cover-up.

One academic at Peradeniya went onto an extent of ridiculing other scientists by saying that there are no proper facilities in Sri Lanka to test for Arsenic. But in a very short time he was proved misinformed or misinterpreting. Another academic from the same university who was also involved in the World. Health Organization (WHO) sponsored CKDUE research project, expressed his dismay in a newspaper article over the "unscientific nature" of Kelaniya-Rajarata research work.

A professor from the Jayawardanapura University also expressed the same sentiments in a different way in a response to a newspaper article of Prof. Nalin De Silva who is heading the KRRT. There he rightly stressed that further research is needed to directly attribute CKDUE with presence of Arsenic in water. There is no argument at all about it as Prof. Nalin himself has accepted the fact that further research is needed, although he did not hide his sentiments towards western research methodologies.

This academic at Jayawardenapura, in his response to Prof. Nalin De Silva, implied that the main issue being discussed in the public domain was CKDUE and its possible causative factors. But on the contrary, the politically sensitive issued was the Presence of Arsenic and Mercury in Agro-chemicals imported to the country. It should be also noted that he was very careful not to mention a word about the presence of Mercury in pesticides although it was also an issue. He, being a member of the WHO sponsored research team, may have been more sensitive towards the CKDUE and the set of hypothesis presumably suggested by the international funding agencies. As such, we could understand as to why chronic Arsenic poisoning was not included in this so called set of hypothesis.

Also the academic who is said to have taken over the responsibility of allocating a massive research fund of 4000 million, has sanctioned without any reservation that there is no relationship between Arsenic and CKDUE. We are wondering as to who on earth have given her the authority to disprove a hypothesis of another research team without significant research evidence to prove another "hypothesis of her choice". Anyway it is up. to the layman citizens of this country to test a hypothesis of their own as to why the academics and bureaucrats in this country are behaving in such a biased manner on a very serious public health hazard.

Now very specific allegations are leveled against a large number of brands of widely used pesticides for containing banned highly toxic elements like Arsenic and Mercury. The customs department has sent a list of 58 such brands of pesticides to the pesticide, registrar and the KRRT claims to have identified 28 brands with Arsenic and 13 brands with Mercury in significant levels. Isn't this situation alarming for any social minded or matured citizen to respond positively? Even a school child could understand that Arsenic and Mercury are banned because release of these elements to the environment is a serious health hazard. For someone who is more concerned, there are enough research evidence in the world about the toxicological effects of these elements in humans which are available in the internet. It is up to our researchers and academics to do further research in Sri Lanka to find out whether Arsenic and Mercury found in pesticides, appear in significant levels in water and soil and ultimately in our food chain. And then not only KRRT or WHO research team but also many other research teams will have to do long term research on health effects of chronic Arsenic and Mercury poisoning, which may well go beyond CKDUE.

Also, there is need to do social research as to why Sri Lanka has banned only 25 out of about 80 chemicals banned world wide and also as to how sonic of the banned chemicals in Sri Lankan appear in the market and used by the innocent farmers. One may have to do a retrospective study to ascertain the pros and cons of abolishing extension service in Agriculture Department and letting farmers get advice on pesticide from "MUDALALIS".

The other most dangerous thing to happen to our farmers is the import of deadly Endofin from India. Recently Supreme Court in India banned Endofin in a. public interest litigation and ordered production, distribution and sale to be stopped completely. But unfortunately court did not give a ruling regarding the stocks in. hand which is estimated to be 30,000 metric. tones. Sri Lanka is the best destination for them to dump part of that stock presumably without any repercussion. There is no way to keep cheek on this because we do not test for so called active ingredients routinely in pesticides.

So far no country in the world has set so called minimum levels of Arsenic and Mercury in pesticides, because agro-chemicals containing them are totally banned. If anyone of our academics suggest for so called minimum levels that will be a violation of Rotterdam convention which Sri Lanka has ratified. Also how can a research minded academic accept the claims of the, pesticide registrar. that there are only three brands of pesticides containing Arsenic and none containing Mercury out of more than one thousand brands he has registered; especially, when the results are not re-confirmed in another acceptable laboratory? This argument is very justifiable because of the complicated and variable nature of the testing methodologies. But so far none of the vociferous academics have called for such verification in the presence of different schools of researchers as well as the media.

Unfortunately responsible bureaucrats holding responsible positions in our country failed to understand this reality. They keep on ‘giving dead ropes’ to the government ministers that pesticides contain very low levels of, toxic elements and as such present crisis will be over if the government introduce minimum levels of toxic elements in pesticides. It is appalling that those academics, who are said to be the most learned people in the country, do not condemn such moves.

All these bureaucrats and academics know very well that countries like ours are dumping grounds for those banned chemicals, produced over a long period of time in so called developed countries. Are they compromising scientific accuracies to the political correctness of those profit motives of multinational co operations? How these learned academics can put forward hairsplitting arguments on effects of a particular course ignoring the very existence of the same.

As concluding remarks I would like to quote honorable Martin Luther King, "The history will record that the tragedy of our time is not the strident clamor of bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people".

K. M. Wasantha Bandara
General Secretary
Patriotic National Movement

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