‘Human error’ during pesticide spraying behind Negri Sembilan school students poisoning

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye speaks to reporters at the PKR retreat in Port Dickson July 20, 2019. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye speaks to reporters at the PKR retreat in Port Dickson July 20, 2019. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PORT DICKSON, July 20 — A case of ‘human error’ exposed 283 primary students to a recent pesticide poisoning incident, two deputy ministers said today.

In a joint press conference today, deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye and Agriculture and Agro-based Industry deputy minister Sim Tze Tzin said that 32 students from SK Linggi had received medical treatments and have since been discharged.

Of the 32, eight were admitted to the hospital, whereas 24 received outpatient treatment.

“Out of 283 exposed, 32 had symptoms. Some of them got nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain. Very much like food poisoning.

“This malathion pesticide is a form of organophosphate. So when they have this poisoning, they can mimic food poisoning.

“This is mild. In severe cases they can have abnormal heart rhythm and even paralysis and can be life-threatening if severe,” Dr Lee said.

Sim said that the incident happened, as the farm which was operating near the school, employed unskilled workers to deal with pesticides.

“We are not trying to pinpoint anyone. We are not trying to blame anyone, but we found that this farm is new, they just started planting chillies. This is their first planting, and the workers are new as well. They don’t know how to plant chilli. They have no experience planting chilli.

“The way that they handled the pesticide is wrong,” Sim said, adding that the workers should have sprayed early in the morning, after school hours or weekends when the students are not around.

Sim said that pesticide used is also not recommended by the Agriculture Department, adding that the farm is also only a few months into its operations.

“I think this is human error and we will make sure that proper training to the farmers as well as to the workers is given,” he added.

Sim also strictly warned farm operators to train their workers before allowing them to handle pesticides to prevent similar health risks in future, also warning about the repercussions of excessive poisoning in vegetables.

Sim also advised farmers to apply for the Malaysia Good Agricultural Practise (myGAP) certification, which would subject their produces, and farming techniques to ministry vetting, before being given the said certification to help boost their sales and to ensure food security.

“myGAP is a certification recognised by Global GAP. Global GAP they have a list of good agricultural practices, so we adopted it, and we are recognised worldwide.

“myGAP is recognised worldwide and that ensures good agricultural practise, food safety, proper use of pesticides and humane treatment of foreign workers, preparing of living quarters and all that,” he added.

On Thursday, The Star reported that 21 at SK Linggi had to be treated at a government clinic, after they experienced nausea and began vomiting after inhaling pesticide fumes from a nearby chilli farm.

The report quoted Port Dickson district police chief Aidi Sham Mohamed saying that 10 of them were later taken to the Port Dickson Hospital for further outpatient treatment.

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