Warning over risk posed by pesticides

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am


Potentially dangerous pesticides are being sprayed around schools, homes and parks in Hong Kong without adequate controls, industry experts and a legislator warn.

Hundreds of pest control firms spray public and private land in the summer to control mosquitoes and weeds, but there is no official licensing system to regulate operators as there is in many countries.

To make matters worse, neurotoxin pesticides which can affect the nervous system and are banned in some countries, are permitted in Hong Kong and can be sprayed without restriction, horticulturalist Paul Melsom says.

Melsom, who has 30 years' experience, said pesticides including Diazinon and Paraquat, which are banned in some countries, could be sprayed in schools and playgrounds under the pesticide ordinance. He said they were highly toxic and could stay active for weeks after spraying.

'Children absorb these chemicals through their skin far more readily than adults. These pesticides are invisible once sprayed but they can still be picked up by children at play by brushing up against plants with spray residue on them, while innocently collecting a football.'

Melsom said dengue fever and malaria should be controlled in safer ways as there were 'a multitude of long-term health risks associated with pesticides', including cancers, birth defects and nervous system problems. 'There are laws controlling dripping air conditioners and smoking, but by comparison the effects of chemical spray residue or spray drift could be far more dangerous to children.'

Legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip said potentially harmful pesticides were too readily available and laws were needed to restrict them. 'The biggest problem is that there is no monitoring or control on domestic usage. People complain again and again and the government seems to be ignorant of the problem ... The traditional bureaucratic thinking seems to be that doing nothing is the best way to handle the problem. It is pure bureaucratic laziness.'

Stuart Morton, technical manager and entomologist with longestablished pest control company BioCycle, said firms were licensed on the mainland and the Philippines but the government had resisted appeals for a licensing system in Hong Kong. 'At the moment, anyone can just go and pick up the equipment and spray,' he said. 'Everyone in the industry would welcome it [a licensing system] because it cuts out the cowboys and gives credibility to the responsible companies.'

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said introducing a licensing system for pest control companies would impose an unnecessary burden on the trade.

She said the department had encouraged the trade to improve professional standards by joining training courses and developing codes of practice.

Asked about the use of pesticides like Diazinon, she said: 'Different countries may adopt different levels of control on individual pesticides according to their local situation ... its use is allowed in countries such as Australia, Canada and Singapore.'