- ITI Head Says
Arsenic found in some of the samples seized from a shipment carrying pesticides is found to be at permissible levels, a head of a state research organization told this reporter.
Dr. Vijaya Kumar, Chairman Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) and an organic scientist however qualified this statement by saying that this was his personal opinion.
Speaking at a seminar on Thursday, he said that the ultimate onus in making such a decision lies with the Pesticides Advisory Board (PAB).
Kumar said that according to the Registrar of Pesticides Act (RPA), pesticides to be tested have to be first submitted to the Registrar of Pesticides (RoP) who in turn is directed to hand over such samples to the ITI and the Government’s Analyst’s Department for testing.
However the Customs Department had allegedly bypassed the RoP and had provided samples of the suspect shipment to the Kelaniya University instead, which in turn had allegedly confirmed that those samples included arsenic.
Meanwhile RoP took 35 samples from the suspect shipment for testing, ITI has completed tests on 32 of those samples and in 23 of those tests three were found to contain arsenic. He told the audience that he is not authorized to speak beyond that.
But Kumar told this reporter that the quantities of arsenic found were 10 parts per million (ppm). However in the case of prawns it’s double that quantity, at 20ppm but is yet safe for consumption, he said.
Kumar told the audience that arsenic is even found in water. In certain parts of South and South East Asia it has been found to contain 50 parts per billion (ppb), he said. The danger point is if it reaches 1,000 ppb, Kumar further said. The furore over arsenic arose after certain quarters tried to blame that the reason behind the high cases of kidney diseases reported in the North Central Province (NCP) were due to pesticides containing arsenic contaminating the water. Hard water is also found in the NCP.
The Government with the assistance of the World Health Organisation is examining the causes that has created this high percentage of kidney diseases in the NCP, but are yet to arrive at a conclusion.
NCP is one of the island’s lucrative rice growing areas for which purpose pesticides are used. However in other major rice producing areas of the country such as Ampara where too pesticides are being used, no major cases of kidney diseases have been reported.
Kumar told this reporter that he shudders to think as to what would happen to the island’s tea industry if this unsubstantiated pesticides/arsenic scare hits the global consumer of Ceylon Tea.
“That would be worse than the threat which was made by the LTTE in the past, of threatening to inject cyanide to Ceylon Tea shipments,” he said.
It was also said at this seminar organized by the Socialist Study Circle that pesticides are manufactured by multi-national companies (MNCs) which “unlike in the past” cannot get away from world scrutiny if their manufactures carry poisonous substances.
Kumar further told the audience that Kelaniya University and Rajarata University have said that the cause for those kidney diseases is arsenic. They had been told by the gods that that was so. By using a new methodology they had found arsenic.
“But we had a doubt in this new methodology testing,” said Kumar. It has also to be tried in other laboratories and the results compared and contrasted. Afterwards it has to be published in a scientific journal, but these have not been done, he said.
ITI has scientists and analysts. “We also have the necessary instruments to conduct such tests which no other institute has,” said Kumar. Tests need to be repeated, “our reports are accepted internationally,” he said. There are allegations doing the rounds that ITI employees have been bought by MNCs, Kumar also said.