CKDu and Arsenic Hypocrisy: Response


By Prof.  Mala Amarasinghe and Dr. K. S. Dahanayake

It is pathetic to read what Registrar of Pesticides (RoP) has written in his article on arsenic and pathological science to The Island on 1st March 2012. Obviously, he has written about how pathetically he dealt the arsenic issue as the official responsible for controlling importation of pesticides to the country. When presence of arsenic and mercury in pesticides was first made known to the public and concerned authorities in April 2011, without carrying out a single test over their presence in imported pesticides, the RoP declared that there is no arsenic or mercury in pesticides, for the simple fact that no pesticide importing company has declared to him their presence as an active ingredient. Nevertheless he accepted the fact that pesticides might contain arsenic and mercury as impurities. Since toxicity of arsenic and mercury doesn’t change whether they are present as an active ingredient or an impurity and when RoP was confronted with this fact, he responded to it by publishing a press article carrying minimum amounts of arsenic allowed in a few food items, taken from a document originally published in 1959 on food and drug regulations in England and Scotland, to deceive the public by comparing those out-dated values with those amounts present in pesticides to imply that arsenic present in pesticides is negligible and harmless. But to ROP’s dismay, a scientific (not based on pathological science) paper published in 2010 by Andrew Meharg, a world authority on arsenic toxicity attached to University of Aberdeen, Scotland, states that arsenic is a Class I non-threshold carcinogen (Environmental Science Technology, Vol. 44, 4395-4399) which causes cumulative or chronic toxicity in humans. According to Toxicological Profile published in June 2010 in by Intrinsik Environmental Inc. Manitoba, Canada with funds from Environmental Protection Agency of USA the dose of arsenic responsible to cause chronic- cancer effect is 0.0015 µg kg-1 day-1 and for chronic-non-cancer effects is 0.3 µg kg-1 day-1, which indicates the miniscule quantities needed to affect human health when arsenic is accumulated in humans over time. The only standard exists at present in Sri Lanka on the minimum threshold of arsenic is 10 µg l-1 in water.

May be due to difficulty in distinguishing between a manual and guidelines, RoP interpreted the contents in manual on pesticide use published by FAO on his own whims and fancies and attempted to highlight that arsenic is a negligible or a minor impurity and that it is not unruly to calculate a minimum permissible amount of arsenic as an impurity in a pesticide using the common formula introduced for the purpose impurities that have already identified and accepted as a pesticide impurity. According to IUPAC Technical Report on pesticide impurities, arsenic is not identified as an impurity that is allowed to be present in any of the pesticide formulations that have been tested here in Sri Lanka for presence of Arsenic. Failing this effort to conceal from the public the fact that arsenic is considered in general a poison that should not be allowed to be present even as an impurity in pesticides, RoP stated in a State radio programme that arsenic is an essential element for human growth and development. It is a pity to point out that what RoP perceives as an essential element for humans, arsenic is infamously called the King of Poisons. For his kind information, WHO (2010) identifies arsenic as one of the most toxic ten chemicals of public health concern and states, " Arsenic has not been demonstrated to be essential in humans. It is an important drinking water contaminant as it is one of the few substances shown to cause cancer in humans through consumptions of drinking water".

Besides, RoP laments that though there are deadlier poisons than arsenic, the world knows only about arsenic which is now detected in pesticides, according to him, in negligible amounts as an impurity. The manner in which RoP dealt with arsenic issue, people in this country has no doubt that if the pesticide companies could get hold of these more deadlier poisons such as bacterial toxins like tetanus, botulin and shigella, they will include them in the pesticides with the help of RoP who is more concerned over the pesticides than the human and animal lives affected by them.

Pesticides kill pests

Pesticides are there to kill life of pests and the easiest way out is to include poisons in it. Although organochlorines and phosphates too are expected to do the same, the poisonous elements in them are ideally, not retained in the environment but degraded to harmless molecules. Poisons like arsenic and mercury are not that easy to get rid of from the environment that they have been applied to because they are elements and not molecules that can be broken down and diminish its toxicity. In August 2011, RoP was informed the results of the analyses conducted at an ISO – certified accredited laboratory in Malaysia, which revealed that in more than 10 pesticide formulations widely used in Sri Lanka, cyanide was also found in noteworthy amounts in addition to arsenic and mercury. For RoP’s kind information, when arsenic and cyanide is present along with organophosphates, they are likely to produce deadly poisonous compounds generally called Clark 1 & 2, Admisite and Lewisite, the infamous chemical warfare agents that are used to kill humans in wars. What action has RoP taken so far to investigate whether this is pathological science or not? RoP is paid by the people to safeguard themselves from poisons that are imported to this country and neither to safeguard the poisons nor the poison vendors, or else he wouldn’t have lamented to see members of the government and also of opposition were critical over pesticides during the debate over amendment to Pesticides Act.

One death, every two days

With the same enthusiasm that he justified the presence of arsenic in pesticides, RoP joined the anti-arsenic band wagon to deceive the public again by his futile attempts to conceal the severity of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) which kills one human being in Anuradhapura every two days. As RoP tries to convince the public that chronic kidney disease is common all over the world, it is high time that he investigates for himself that CKDu is not in epidemic proportions anywhere in the world like in Sri Lanka. Like all other anti-arsenic advocates, RoP too wants people in this country to take the example of Balkans and wait for another 50 years to look for the etiology of CKDu that will destroy the social and economic fabric of the CKDu endemic areas in Sri Lanka. It is prudent for the RoP to know for himself the extent to which pathological science is involved in identifying pesticides as the major risk factor for CKDu among workers of sugarcane plantations and banana farmers in Central America.

It is important to bring to notice of the public how RoP attempts (although fruitlessly) to use mendacity to prove that arsenic is naturally present in Sri Lankan soils. According to the minutes of the 55th meeting of the Pesticide Technical and Advisory Committee,

" Head, Department of Geology of University of Peradeniya stated that the study results have shown the amounts of arsenic present in groundwater, rocks and soil sediments were at negligible levels due to low anaerobic conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka"

Unfortunately this geologist has not seen elephants eating arsenic containing mud at Udawalawe park which RoP has found for himself!

Further, RoP insults the knowledge of this eminent geologist in his press article of 1st March 2012 saying,

"Yet there is published literature to show that Arsenic is present in bed rocks of this country!"

If we presume that RoP is not a practitioner of Pathological Science, RoP was honest to reveal the public in his press article, how the committee has come to the decision based on what the geologist has presented to it,

"They (the committee) listened to the views of leading geologist in the country who have studied Arsenic in our environment. They studied the published scientific information relevant to the issue and the committee decided that there is no evidence at all to support the idea that pesticides cause Arsenic accumulation in the environment, agricultural or natural. By contrast we found enough scientific evidence from published literature to falsify the claims of Arsenic hypothesis proponents.

Arsenic, mercury are harmful

The natural query that the concerned public may want to ask the RoP is the grounds on which the committee decided so without consulting a toxicologist about the situation. For public information, it is important to let know that Head of the forensic medicine and Toxicology unit in Colombo and Chief JMO, Dr.Ananda Samarasekara has sent a letter addressed to Director General of Health Services that arsenic and mercury in pesticides available in Sri Lanka are certainly harmful to people.

RoP states in his press article that "pathological science as an area of research that do not go away long after it was given up as false by the majority of scientists in the field. In other words it is the science of things that are not so." Who are these "majority" of Scientist in this context? None of the scientists who had seen the results of the arsenic hypothesis proponents had scientifically disproved the findings of the arsenic research group. Instead, the paper carried results of research relevant to arsenic hypothesis had been awarded a silver medal at the annual scientific sessions of College of Forensic pathologists of Sri Lanka (CFPSL) on 25th Feb, 2012. The president of CFPSL is one of the former Head, chief forensic pathologists of the institute of Forensic medicine and Toxicology, Colombo. Besides, the results have been presented at five local symposia and another three have been accepted to be presented at three international conferences.

Ironically, RoP qualifies to be one among pathological scientists like Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann who talked about Cold Fusion in 1989 as he still lingers on to his toothless hypothesis that arsenic is an essential element for humans and that arsenic in pesticides fulfills that requirement, even after generating an award-winning piece of knowledge over the subject to prove it is not so..

Although RoP groundlessly points his fingers at proponents of arsenic hypothesis for being opposing for whatever research, product, or technology that we happen to dislike, his pathological science, hypocrisy, selfishness and lack of empathy over humanity prevents him having wisdom to be open minded to capture reality. Unfortunately, RoP has perceived his responsibility topsy-turvy and sees himself the guardian of pesticides and their entry to the country along with the makers of money out of the trade but not the users. Criticisms and protest against pesticides is not new and that is how some very poisonous pesticides such as 2-4-D and arsenicals have been banned from use as pesticides and it is not because of the benevolent philanthropic action of the producers and importers of pesticides but due to persevering efforts of selfless, humane humans who committed sacrifices for the common good. I wonder what the RoP has done to prevent influx of arsenic and mercury which have been proven scientifically to bioaccumulate in humans and other organisms and cause health problems. If he claims that all arsenic is coming to the country as impurities, and therefore he doesn’t have to worry about it as far as it is not the active ingredient, he should have the audacity to tell this country how much arsenic is added to Sri Lankan soils and water through 15,000 tons of pesticides imported each year and over five decades. He argues that human bodies can excrete certain amount of arsenic but he deceives the public by not letting them know that all that excreted arsenic is finally add to our water and soils!

Hypocrasy of pseudo scientists

One positive outcome of the arsenic scenario is the revelation of hypocrisy of the pseudo-scientists. Pathetically, what these pseudo-scientists did instead of going to the lab and verifying the results on presence of arsenic, go to the national press and television and make statements off the cough that arsenic is not present. They justified their act not by doing scientific research, but giving falsified and fabricated information to the public.

Despite being a human having a direct or indirect responsibility for killing millions of insects, other life that is called pests and CKDu affected innocent farmers, one can challenge RoP’s eligibility to excerpt dhamma from Sutta Nikaya to meet his ends. May The Island Readers be wise enough to guage the category of following groups that he belongs to, .

"those who know that they know, those who know that they don’t know, those who don’t know that they know and those who don’t know that they don’t know."

Although arsenic scenario is a fiasco for those who make money out of inhumane poison trade, it is indeed a triumph for the poor farmers who are destined to die prematurely from CKDu. Time is ripe for an open debate with RoP on the impact of arsenic on human health and environment of Sri Lanka and his controversial behaviour as a responsible public servant.

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