Farmers not taking precautions risked pesticide poisoning, warns expert
A few reckless farmers were not heeding authorities’ warnings
Farmers who refused to take precautionary measures risked pesticide poisoning, according to agriculture expert Malcolm Borg.
“Just like in other professions, there are amateurs and professionals. Farmers who do not follow the safety precautions will be at risk when spraying pesticides,” he said.
Mr Borg, who heads the farmers’ lobby Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi, was contacted after Times of Malta reported on Wednesday that more than a dozen people had been treated for overexposure to pesticides in the air over the past five years.
According to the National Hospitals Information System, 13 people required medical treatment at Mater Dei Hospital between 2013 and 2017 for a variety of symptoms linked to overexposure to pesticides.
Mr Borg said farmers undertook training courses on pesticides and were instructed to always wear protective masks. It would appear, however, that a few reckless farmers were not heeding the authorities’ warnings and poisoning themselves in the process.
Respiratory physician Martin Balzan said cases of organo-phosphate poisoning were not common but were taken very seriously at the State hospital. “The chemicals in pesticides can be highly toxic if inhaled in large quantities,” he said.
“In a nutshell, they can cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles and system, leading to serious problems.”
The figures about the cases of exposure, which were tabled in the House by Health Minister Chris Fearne following a parliamentary question by Opposition environment spokesman Jason Azzopardi, show they ranged from one-offs to acute sufferers.
Dr Balzan said the acute cases usually consisted of farmers who had been exposed to the chemicals over years and not taken the necessary precautions.
Patients treated by emergency response teams sent to farms or nearby homes but not taken to hospital were not included in the data provided. Information on the number of cases last year was still binge compiled by the authorities.
Jeffrey Bonnici, from the hospital’s casualty department, said that although only a few cases were known to be reported every year, it was rather difficult to speak about chronic cases.
Fruit and vegetables sold in Malta are regularly among the worst scorers in the EU when it comes to excessive pesticide levels.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, more than one in 10 local greens taken to the lab in 2016 were sprayed with chemicals over the legal limit.
The European average was five times lower.