Banned pesticides found in Cameron Highlands water

Farmers using illegal pesticides over the years have polluted the water catchment area, the riverine system and the tap water in Cameron Highlands. — Picture by Marcus Pheong
Farmers using illegal pesticides over the years have polluted the water catchment area, the riverine system and the tap water in Cameron Highlands. — Picture by Marcus Pheong

CAMERON HIGHLANDS, March 7 — Several types of pesticides, banned both locally and internationally, have been found in the water catchment and riverine system here by a team of experts.

Traces of endosulfan, edrine ketone, aldrin and DDE — a derivative of the dangerous DDT — were found in six sampling sites conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The study between August and December last year showed the pesticides are persistent organic pollutants, which are regulated globally by the Stockholm Convention and to which Malaysia is a signatory.

More shocking was the discovery of traces of endosulfan beta — a dangerous endocrine disruptor chemical — in one of the samples taken from tap water by the UKM team, led by Prof Dr Md Pauzi Abdullah from the School of Chemical Sciences and Food Technology.

According to Md Pauzi, 36 samples were taken from six sampling sites along the Bertam and Telom rivers.

“The samples were analysed and we found some of these traces show the pesticides were used a long time ago while some point to them having been used in recent years,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a seminar on water quality yesterday. 

“It is clear there is widespread presence of dangerous chemical pollutants in the water catchment area, rivers and even tap water,” he said.

The Seminar on Raising Awareness on the Impact of Pesticides on Human Health and the Environment in Cameron Highlands, a full-day event, was organised by Regional Environmental Awareness Cameron Highlands (REACH) and Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific.

Md Pauzi was especially worried with the finding that the water catchment area at Kuala Terla, which supplies potable water needs at the highlands, was contaminated.

He said it was unbelievable that the authorities failed to protect the water catchment area by allowing proliferation of illegal farms around the catchment area.

“This is very unnerving. We found contamination right at the source. I cannot understand how this was allowed to go on.

“And, not to forget my team found traces of banned pesticides in the tap water. We took the sample in Berinchang.

“Although the trace was miniscule and within the permitted level, I am concerned about the accumulated effect or aggregation of years of consumption on the internal body system.

“The effect could take place a couple of generations later causing birth defects and infertility.”

Md Pauzi did not discount the possibility that some of the internationally banned pesticides were reintroduced to Cameron Highlands even after Malaysia had banned them.

He said the farmers could have used banned pesticides because these were more effective than using legalised ones.

Md Pauzi’s hypotheses was confirmed by REACH president R. Ramakrishnan who during the press conference, produced samples of the illegal pesticides sold in Cameron Highlands by many unscrupulous businessmen.

“The businessmen don’t sell to anyone who walks into their shops. They sell only to known contacts.

“Even I had to use a farmer contact to get the illegal pesticides. I tried to buy but the sellers would say they didn’t sell such pesticides.”

Ramakrishnan said some illegal pesticides were slightly more expensive than legalised ones but farmers did not mind paying more because the substances were more effective in killing pests.

He said although the issue of illegal pesticide use had been  raised preiously, no action was taken to curb the menace.

He said REACH had long suspected the use of illegal pesticides had affected the quality of water at the highlands.

“I am certain the public will be more cautious when drinking water or buying farm produce in Cameron Highlands now.

“ I no longer eat vegetable grown here although I am a local because I know the amount of pesticide used in growing them,” he said.

Ramakrishnan hoped a thorough study could be carried out by multi-agencies at the highlands to correlate the data on pesticide found in the water and the level of healthiness of the people.

“It would be a crucial finding, one that would allow us to see the real effects of dangerous and banned pesticides on human health.”

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