Hazardous poisons taken off the shelf

Two of South Africa’s most dangerous pesticides will be removed from store shelves this year, but they are likely to remain accessible to the public for some time.

Temik, often used to poison pets and wildlife, will be phased out by the end of the year. It is nicknamed “two-step” because that is all an average-size dog can manage after ingesting just a few of the grey granules.

Sold illegally in small packages at taxi ranks and other transport nodes, an amount the size of a matchstick head can kill an adult and a teaspoon can kill a rhinoceros. Richard Breum, the spokesperson for manufacturers Bayer CropScience in Germany, said this week the company recently stopped producing Temik, an agro-chemical used mainly to protect crops against nematodes and sucking insects.

“We expect there will be none of the product in the market by the end of this year. However, there are other, illegal sources.”

Sales to agents and farmers were regulated, but lax controls in rural areas enabled the siphoning off of unknown quantities of Temik. The illegal trade increased after the dispossession of Zimbabwe’s commercial farmers.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Tim Snow said a nationwide survey in 2008 showed Temik was fairly widely available in most small towns, especially in eastern South Africa and the Western Cape. “It is the product most often used to poison wildlife,” he said. “Stolen stocks are also used for rat poison.”

Temik is regularly used in KwaZulu-Natal to poison vultures and leopards, the skins of which are sought after as ceremonial regalia by the Shembe church. Snow said its withdrawal was not expected to have an immediate impact on street trade.

“The withdrawal of Bayer from Zimbabwe showed it could even boost the illegal market. Within six months, a Chinese generic called Pilamic was developed and marketed there.”

A national chemical crime-management forum has been set up, comprising representatives of NGOs, government, the chemical industry and police. It will meet this week to chart the way forward on illegal sales.

Agriculture department spokesperson Steve Galane said hawkers found in possession of illegal, dangerous chemicals were warned and had their product confiscated. Legal proceedings were instituted against repeat offenders or illegal manufacturers, importers or wholesalers.

Endosulfan, a liquid insecticide used on crops and Western Cape vineyards, was banned late last month. Representatives of 127 governments in Geneva agreed to list it as a persistent organic pollutant and eliminate it from the global market by 2012.

Classified as “highly hazardous”, it does not break down in the environment and has been linked to congenital physical disorders, mental disability and death among farm workers and in rural communities worldwide. It is readily absorbed via the stomach and lungs and through the skin.

Jurgen Schirmacher, who set up the Tatib Foundation, actively campaigned for the ban after he and his family were dosed with a toxic cocktail including Endosulfan by crop sprayers on a Riebeek Kasteel farm six years ago.

“I’ve been in and out of hospital after being sprayed and developed a tumour which doctors believe was caused by pesticide exposure,” he said this week.

Schirmacher welcomed the ban, but raised concern about stockpiles left on farms. A recent University of Cape Town study found about 800kg of Endosulfan on farms around Stellenbosch and close to three tonnes of the banned pesticide DDT.

“We believe there should be a cradle-to-grave policy that makes manufacturers and suppliers responsible for recalling stockpiles,” he said.

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Fiona Macleod
Fiona Macleod

Fiona Macleod is an environmental writer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper and editor of the M&G Greening the Future and Investing in the Future supplements.

She is also editor of Lowveld Living magazine in Mpumalanga.

An award-winning journalist, she was previously environmental editor of the M&G for 10 years and was awarded the Nick Steele award for environmental conservation.

She is a former editor of Earthyear magazine, chief sub-editor and assistant editor of the M&G, editor-in-chief of HomeGrown magazines, managing editor of True Love and production editor of The Executive.

She served terms on the judging panels of the SANParks Kudu Awards and The Green Trust Awards. She also worked as a freelance writer, editor and producer of several books, including Your Guide to Green Living, A Social Contract: The Way Forward and Fighting for Justice.

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