Pesticide use blasted as risk to children, pets

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am


The Hong Kong government has been accused of being 'totally irresponsible' over health risks to humans and pets by failing to control adequately the use of potentially dangerous chemicals to kill weeds and mosquitoes.

Officials have resisted calls for stricter regulations on the use pesticides such as paraquat and diazinon, banned in some countries, despite claims that the health of children and pets is being jeopardised. They have also dismissed calls to introduce a licensing system for the hundreds of pest-control companies operating in Hong Kong, saying it would impose an unnecessary burden on the trade.

According to legislator Albert Chan, residents in Mui Wo and Lamma Island have complained about toxic pesticides being sprayed around kindergartens and primary schools, and say at least 10 dogs died in September alone after coming into contact with paraquat.

Lantau-based horticulturalist Paul Melsom said pesticides such as diazinon and paraquat could pose invisible long-term health risks to children if they came into contact with the chemicals.

'I find it incomprehensible that these extremely dangerous pesticides are allowed to be sprayed in schools and public playgrounds,' Melsom said.

'Diazinon was banned in the UK in 2001 and the whole of the EU in March this year. This is not right.'

Chan said the Hong Kong government had been 'inactive' since the issue was raised this year and in written questions to Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok in November. 'Their attitude is totally irresponsible,' he said.

'Many countries overseas have banned the use of these pesticides but the Hong Kong government seems to be totally unaware of the situation and unclear about the impact on people's health.'

Chan appealed to people to complain if they felt dangerous pesticides were being used irresponsibly.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said there was no evidence of any dogs being poisoned by paraquat in the past two years anywhere in Hong Kong. 'Regarding human cases, there have been 15 paraquat poisonings over the past six years. No children were involved. All severe cases were related to the drinking of the herbicide, such as in suicide attempts, rather than normal exposure to paraquat.'

The department only registers pesticides for use in Hong Kong that are categorised as 'slightly or moderately hazardous' by the World Health Organisation and imposes restrictions on the formulations and concentrations of pesticides for retail sale, the spokeswoman said.

'The AFCD has been educating the public on the safe and proper use of pesticides,' she said.

'In general, if the pesticide is used in accordance with the instructions on the label, accidents can be avoided. That said, adults are reminded to look after children and avoid contact with areas that have been treated with pesticides.'

Asked about the calls for a licensing system for pest-control companies, she said the government had considered the idea 'thoroughly and carefully'. But she added: 'We believe the existing regulatory system meets the need to protect the public from unsafe use of pesticides.'


The approximate number of countries that use paraquat, according to the Paraquat Information Centre