Poisonous sprays from farms drifting onto people, ‘workers, children, family and neighbours’ is finally coming to a head in the Boland.
Numerous incidences of long-term, serious health problems, linked by doctors to the careless management of spray drift from surrounding farms mobilized the establishment of a special group in Stellenbosch, called TATIB (The Air That I Breathe). Pesticide drift is an issue that has long concerned more aware residents in towns surrounded by farms, especially as those most at risk are workers and children exposed over long periods of time.
The owner of the Chilanga Riding School for the Disabled in Somerset West, Sally Kluth, was hospitalised for breathing problems and asthma recently, after her riding school was hit by spray drift from a neighbouring farm. Kings Kloof had fairly recently established some vineyards very close to the riding school. When they spray Sally`s house and the entire riding school are exposed to their drifting spray.
Jurgen Schirmacher, chairman of TATIB Steering Committee & TATIB Spokesperson, visited her a few weeks ago.
The air around her place was thick with the smell of pesticides. I immediately started to have a reaction, as I suffer from acute sensitivity to pesticides. Sally has breathing problems now like asthma, etc – and was on a nebuliser when I last spoke with her. Her staff are also suffering.
Clearly Kings Kloof are spraying in contravention to act 36 of 1947 – and their location is such that spray drift is blown down the valley (down Parel Valley Road) to the schools, to Beaumont and into the nature reserve. Sally managed to give me one product label – for Talendo – made by DuPont – which had warnings regarding it potentially causing severe eye damage, skin and respiratory irritation and that entry into the treated area is prohibited unless wearing protective clothing.
Horses, children and elderly poisoned
Sally started the Riding School for Disabled in 1949, when she was 13 years old. This is a non-profit organisation that helps 300 disabled children to ride every month. After attending TATIB’s founding meeting, Mr. Don Maxwell and his friend Peggy drove home to their house in Devon Valley. When he stepped out of his car to open the gate, he was soaked by poison from his neighbour’s sprayers. He was rushed to the Stellenbosch Mediclinic for blood tests. It turned out he was sprayed with Mancozeb.
According to Prof. Leslie London, Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit, University of Cape Town, Mancozeb contains Manganese, which is a neurotoxin. This is widely used around Stellenbosch.
A concerned mother of a Stellenbosch student, who asked to have her identity protected, told the Green Times her daughter`s story. Since studying at Stellenbosch she has suffered from ill health. Eventually ovarian cancer was diagnosed, which she thankfully survived. She lives in a residential home bordering a farm where poisonous sprays are used. She continues to suffer from a range of pesticide poisoning symptoms during the spraying season. Her parents are extremely concerned about her health.
Marlena Lowe lives in Roodeberg, a residential area bordering the KWV head office with vineyards. They moved to Roodeberg in 2001. The next year her health took its first knock. She fell ill with flu-like symptoms. Slowly she made the link with the municipality`s programme of spraying the oak trees.
“They used to issue warnings when this would happen, but that’s no longer the case,” she said. “We would immediately close all windows and I would leave the area, but nowadays you don’t know when that’s going to happen.”
Lungs, hormones, nerves all out of whack
When this spray was combined with the neighbouring farm`s spray from August to December/January she got severely ill. Most people in the area leave for work early morning, but Marlena works from home. Even her menstrual cycle stops, as some of these poisons are endocrine disruptors. Her lungs are so badly effected that it weeps through her left eye. As a former natural health practitioner, her awareness allows her to monitor her symptoms carefully. Her vision has deteriorated very fast and she has joint pains, especially in the knees during the spraying season. Then she suffers from insomnia too, as the nervous system is affected. She becomes lethargic and nauseous and cannot work. The minute the spraying is over, all symptoms disappear.
Marlena has spoken repeatedly to the KWV. She is grateful to Mr. Kobus van Graan for being sympathetic to her problems. He now ensures she is notified when they are going to spray on the same day, though. She has to leave town for the sake of clean air, then continues to suffer when she returns home. Her neighbour Zelda`s house is right next to the vineyard. She ends up at the clinic often with severe asthma.
Jurgen Schirmacher was contacted by concerned residents from Stellenbosch, as more and more patients and doctors connected the dots between recurring illnesses and activities on nearby wine farms. He was asked to help them establish a pressure group to focus on strengthening protective legislation to protect innocent residents and farm workers. He and his family had suffered from pesticide poisoning while living in Riebeeck Kasteel in a residential area adjoining a farm. Even today he and his family are struggling with their health. The invitation to TATIB’s founding meeting explains the motivation behind this initiative:
`The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa guarantees the right of every person to live in an environment that is not harmful to their health and well being. It is a well known fact that exposure to pesticides, and in particular prolonged exposure to pesticides, poses very real health risks to both humans and the environment. Many towns in the Western Cape are surrounded by vineyards. These vineyards are sprayed with a cocktail of pesticides & fungicides, which results in considerable spray drift being blown out of the vineyards and into the residential area, where these potentially toxic pesticides come into contact with humans.
Stellenbosch lessons can help others
There have been well documented complaints from residents, students & farm workers as to their illnesses experienced as as a result of pesticide exposure. Children are particularly vulnerable to many of these pesticides, which have been found to be reproductive and developmental toxins. Stellenbosch is the centre of Agricultural Studies and lessons well learnt in Stellenbosch can be applied to the rest of South Africa. Another founder is a medical doctor from Polokwane.
Dr. Johan Minnaar has lived in Groblersdal, Limpopo, for the past 12 years. He treated serious illnesses like miscarriages, partial facial paralysis, cancers, ear malfunctions as well as milder poisoning symptoms, such as asthma, sinusitis, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and depression among many of my patients. In the Groblersdal area commercial farmers spray large amounts of pesticides on crops surrounding the town. Throughout the year there is constant crop spraying with pesticides containing organophosphates and carbamates. The community is not informed what pesticides are being used, even though the law states people must be notified before spraying.
`I am standing here today because of my own experience I had due to pesticide poisoning as a result of pesticide drift. I am concerned about the effect it has on human health and the current legislation and regulations on the use of pesticides in South Africa. I would like to see a change in the SA Government’s policies on pesticide uses.`
He suffered from symptoms of poisoning over six years, such as chronic fatigue, nausea, muscle aches and pains, skin rashes and arthritis, particularly from August till November. It was his wife who made the link between her husband`s illness and the spraying happening on the surrounding farms. Dr. Minnaar confirmed this with blood tests, which proved high levels of organophosphates in his blood. He laid a complaint with the registrar of the national agriculture department, but was not able to illicit an intervention.
Said Dr. Minnaar at TATIB`s founding meeting in Stellenbosch recently:
“Prior to World War II, the pesticides that we use now did not yet exist. Some pesticides currently in use were developed during World War II for use in warfare. The organophosphate insecticides were developed as nerve gasses. The phenoxy herbicides became a component of Agent Orange. Since then these chemicals began are used as pesticides in agricultural production.”
“Rachel Carson’s revolutionary book, Silent Spring, first published in 1962, started the slow process of raising political and public awareness of the hazards posed to wildlife, humans and the ecosystem by the use of pesticides. This process continued with Our Stolen Future, described by then Vice-President Al Gore as the sequel to Silent Spring, which documented the health effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Since then, there have been hundreds of scientific studies done to determine if there is a relationship between pesticide use and human health problems.”
Suffer the children
“There are three routes of exposure for pesticides – oral ingestion, dermal absorption and inhalation. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticides, as they eat and drink more per kilogram of body weight than adults. Their skin is more permeable and their livers don’t excrete as efficiently as adults.”
Their hand-to-mouth behaviour increases the chance of ingestion and their dermal contact is increased because of a proportionally larger skin surface, and because they play on the ground outdoors and on the floors indoors.
The unborn child can be affected by parental exposure. The acute effects of pesticide poisoning are well documented, especially with respect to organophosphate poisoning. These are the effects we read about on the container’s label. Daily we hear of more people living on or near farms, who suffer from debilitating symptoms such as flu-like or typical gastro, allergy symptoms for example headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, skin rashes, coughing, runny nose etc.
More severe cases develop muscle weakness, muscle twitches, change in heart rate, bronchiospasm, convulsions and coma. However, the chronic low-level exposure effects of pesticide exposure are much more difficult to assess. Common pesticides used in homes, lawns and agriculture are now being shown in medical research to cause serious health problems years after exposure. Most people don’t know and don’t believe what a chronic low dose exposure can do to human health and the environment.
Chronic exposure can cause cancer
Even in the absence of acute poisoning, chronic exposure is associated with a broad range of non-specific symptoms, including headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, insomnia, confusion, as well learning and behavioral problems. Multi-symptom Illness related to Gulf War Veterans syndrome. Memory problems, mood alterations and chronic respiratory problems. Chronic exposure can cause neurological problems such as ADHD, Parkinson`s and autism. Some pesticides are endocrine disrupters and some pesticides can damage or weaken the immune system, can cause birth defects and cause many types of cancer.
“Genetics loads the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.”
“The problem is,” said Dr. Minnaar, “that exposure of the developing child to even low levels of common everyday chemicals during the critical window period of development can result in many health problems evident throughout life. Scientific evidence increasingly points to links between the cancer epidemic and exposure to certain chemicals including pesticides. People are daily exposed at work and at home through pesticide spraying (in agriculture, parks, open spaces, gardens, house plants, via food and in water!).”
Laws should protect vulnerable people
A safer and cleaner environment needs strong laws, especially to protect the most vulnerable groups in society such as pregnant women, children, farm workers as well as farmers.
Taking a precautionary approach, TATIB want to see:
- A ban on avoidable, cancer causing and neurotoxic pesticides
- Targets to reduce the use of pesticides and eliminate or minimize exposure
- Pesticide free areas where children can play and learn without the risk of being exposed to harmful chemicals such as parks, schools and sports grounds
- Healthcare strategies and national cancer plans that include plans to reduce exposure
New European rules on pesticides have been introduced because of concerns about serious health effects. The SA government is reluctant to act. There is a need in SA to provide information on pesticides and health issues, to give a voice to concerned citizens, cancer sufferers and their families. There must be support to those who want to rapidly reduce their dependence on pesticides. Read more and act now:
- The final draft of the amendment of the Fertilizers, Farm Feeds, Seeds and Remedies Act, to legislate registration of pest control operators is now calling for comments.
- A proposed new bylaw will restrict the use of Chlorpyrifos in South Africa.
- Many pesticides are sprayed on Western Cape vineyards. Learn about their active ingredients and some of their side effects.
- Read more TATIB related stories.