Village chief accuses parents of selfishness as they call for farmers to use organic weed control near nursery Parents at a Lantau kindergarten fear the indiscriminate spraying of a toxic herbicide on vegetable plots surrounding the school and around the island could damage their children's health. Lick Hang Kindergarten, in the bucolic village of Tai Tei Tong, near Mui Wo, is tucked away on a small plot of land surrounded by rural vegetable and fruit patches. It runs half-day pre-school classes for about 60 children aged three to six. A row flared at the start of the school year over the spraying of the herbicide Paraquat on surrounding agricultural land. Of particular concern is the spraying of weeds on farmland that runs right to the edge of the kindergarten's cramped playground. The parents of at least three children have voiced concerns to the school. A wire fence is all that separates the kindergarten from the land being sprayed, which means the herbicide is free to drift into the school's outdoor play area, said Paul Melsom, whose three-year-old son started at the school a month ago. Paraquat is banned in at least three European countries and restricted in the US. It is not controlled in Hong Kong. Mr Melsom said he was shocked when he learned the herbicide was being sprayed so close to the kindergarten and was the first to complain to the school. He said footpaths directly in front of the school had also been sprayed recently. 'I have a little boy and I don't know whether the wet spray on the weeds will rub off and be absorbed into his skin or he might breathe in the vapour of the spray,' said Mr Melsom, a horticulturalist. The farmers using the chemical were unlikely to be trained operators, he added. Mr Melsom suggested that weeds could be controlled using organic farming methods without harm to children. The government should regulate who was allowed to apply such chemicals and where they were used. Stiff penalties should be imposed on offenders, he said. Another parent, Donald Latter, whose three-year-old daughter attends Lick Hang, said the casual use of herbicide near the kindergarten was symptomatic of a wider, casual use of chemicals for agricultural purposes on Lantau. The kindergarten's headmistress, Lam Siu-wah, said the school was concerned about the spraying but there had been no evidence that children had fallen ill as a result. She declined to comment further. Parents said the school may be reluctant to complain for fear of driving away children and hurting relations with its neighbours. Village chief Wong Siu-kwong said herbicides were cheaper than manual labour to remove weeds and many local farmers depended on the sale of their produce as their main source of income. 'These westerners are a bit selfish,' he said. 'They need to consider that some people farm for a living and can't afford the higher costs of getting weeds pulled out by hand. The really dangerous stuff is already banned anyway.' He had asked farmers to spray pesticides only on school holidays to minimise the risk. After receiving a complaint, the Environmental Protection Department visited the school last week but found nothing amiss in relation to pollution controls. A spokeswoman said the case had been passed to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department for further investigation.