CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Traces of widely banned pesticides have been found in treated water and rivers here, said the Pesticide Action Network Asia and The Pacific (Panap).
According to its executive director Sarojeni V. Rengam, tests on samples drawn from six sites in the Bertam and Terla rivers, as well as treated water, found traces of pesticides.
More worrying is that endosulfan II, endrine ketone, aldrin and DDE (a derivative of DDT) residue have been found in Brinchang tap water.
Of great concern is aldrin, an organochlorine pesticide widely used until the 1970s when it was banned in most countries, with Malaysia finally banning it in 1994.
A popular choice to treat seed and soil before it was banned, aldrin was found in tap water at an average level of 0.071 microgrammes per litre – well above the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit of 0.03 microgrammes per litre.
Endosulfan is another organochlorine insecticide that has been in the process of being phased out globally since 2012. The compound produces endosulfan II as a byproduct when it breaks down in the environment.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s School of Chemical Science and Food Technology analysed the samples in the study funded by Panap.
Prof Mohd Pauzi Abdullah, who specialises in analytical chemistry at UKM, said it was possible to detect some residue even though farmers stopped using them years ago, as these chemicals tend to persist in the environment.
“The residue will be in the sediment and carried by the water,” he told The Star at the sidelines of the seminar “Raising Awareness on the Impact of Pesticides on Human Health and the Environment” jointly organised by Panap and Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (Reach) here yesterday.
However, Dr Pauzi said it was more likely that some residue came from recent use of the pesticides, though he added that more extensive tests were needed.
According to Sarojeni, the latest rounds of tests were carried out between August and December last year, and the highest concentration of pesticide residue was found in the Terla River, specifically in areas with intensive agriculture.
“As endosulfan takes about 200 days to break down, this was no doubt used in the past year.
“There needs to be more studies and continuous monitoring, and we hope other NGOs and the Government will join us in addressing these issues of great importance,” she said, adding that the widespread detection of agrochemicals classified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) was alarming.
“These are POPs which have been banned in Malaysia, the European Union and many other countries for several years,” said Sarojeni.
In many laboratory studies, POPs have been linked with many damaging effects such as birth defects, developmental disorders, cancer, reproductive problems and a wide range of health conditions such as diabetes, obesity and metabolic dysfunction.
Reach president R. Ramakrishnan said illegal chemicals were found to be sold in the Camerons, the hub of temperate flower and vegetable production in Malaysia.
He alleged that the chemicals, bearing labels in foreign languages, were only sold to those known to the shopkeepers.
“It is not easy to buy them,” he said, showing packets of the chemicals he had managed to purchase from shops here.
Ramakrishnan claimed various government agencies had failed to take any action despite the issue being highlighted eight years ago.
“They must find out where these chemicals are coming from and put a stop to it.”