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When pest control kills people

When Dhawal Lahagania and Mandira Chaudhary, both in their early twenties, checked into an empty flat in Nigdi, Pune on October 31, they didn’t suspect anything was wrong. But soon after, they started to experience suffocation and breathing problems. Dhawal called a friend, who got them admitted to a hospital. The couple succumbed to their afflictions within a day.

What Dhawal and Mandira weren’t aware of was that a pest control company had fumigated the apartment under instructions from Dhawal’s parents, who had left the flat to stay away for the mandatory 12 hours.

In July 2013, 22 school children died in Bihar, and dozen others needed treatment after eating the midday-meal which was contaminated with insecticide.

It was in 1968, that an Insecticide Act was passed to regulate import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of insecticides. In 1970, the power to enforce the act shifted form the Health Ministry to the Agriculture ministry.

A Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee was set up, and states were advised to appoint functionaries to implement the Act. To undertake pest control operations, a licence is required, which must be renewed every five years. The job to license and monitor this was given to a district-level agriculture officer.

Pest control operations mostly remain by unregulated. Following the Nigdi incident, an inquiry showed there are only 450 licensed pest control operators in Pune district.

According to officials, the pest control operator in the Nigdi case was not licensed, and the agriculture officer overseeing the proceedings has every right to file a complaint against the agency. However, deaths resulting from pesticides and insecticides poisoning has failed to stir the government. Pest control operators usually only meet when a mishap has occurred. Training aspects are stressed on in these meetings but soon after they lose any semblance of importance.

870 insecticides were listed under the Faridabad-based Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee until November 2014.

Common pesticides include pyrethrin, deltamethrin, diazonin and fenitrothion, which are used against cockroaches, mosquitoes, houseflies, bedbugs and rats. They are classified by toxicity, and colour-coded for users to dilute appropriately. These chemicals are dangerous and inhalation, ingestion, or prolonged exposure to them, can be life-threatening.

Headaches, dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea are some of the symptoms of internal exposure, while chronic exposure may result in loss of appetite, weakness and weight loss. Severe damage can be caused to the liver, kidneys and the nervous system if rodenticides are ingested.

A 2005 study by the US National Institutes of Health also found a statistically significant increase in cancer mortality among municipal pest control workers who were exposed to a wide variety of chemicals.

Organic pest control methods, such as tulsi-based mosquito repellants, are difficult to prepare and there is not much awareness about them as well. As such, even though the natural alternatives cause no harm to the environment and the body, chemical based pesticides are the ones preferred by the market and people.

The pest control business needs a more serious approach. Proper precautions must be made mandatory both with regard to the person on the job and the common people in the vicinity. The pest controller must be licensed and the worker must wear protective clothing and treat different pests with the particular insecticide meant for them. Food must be covered and doors and windows kept shut. If the chemicals are too strong, one must make sure not to remain in the vicinity to prevent possible skin and eye irritation.

(Inputs from Indian Express)

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