These were the Indian-manufactured Profex Super, Police and Monocil — the latter being an insecticide that contains the highly hazardous active ingredient monocrotophos — and Polo, an insecticide with the active ingredient diafenthiuron, produced by the Swiss company Syngenta.
Diafenthiuron is a broad-spectrum insecticide that paralyses and then kills sap-feeding insects. The insecticide, commercialised in , was banned in the European Union in , and subsequently in Switzerland in The difference between diafenthiuron — and most other highly hazardous Syngenta pesticides — is that, unusually, the substance is produced in Switzerland, at the production site of the agrochemical giant in Monthey in the canton of Valais.
Despite months of resistance from Syngenta, through a freedom of information request Public Eye obtained figures showing that in , the company exported over tonnes of the substance from Switzerland: 75 tonnes were exported to India, 50 tonnes to South Africa, and 1. Whilst other banned pesticides are exported from Switzerland, diafenthiuron is the only substance for which the volumes are high.
After the wave of poisonings, the state swiftly took an interest in Syngenta. According to Syngenta India, Polo had been successfully used by farmers across the country for the last 14 years without any reported incidents of fatal casualties. In June it provisionally banned the sale of five pesticides, including diafenthiuron. In August, the Indian government published a list of 12 pesticides that it plans to ban following an assessment conducted over many years. Yet inquisitive visitors are not welcome; following the poisonings, the hospital came under fierce criticism from all sides.
It had lacked the required knowledge about the substances contained in the pesticides and the diagnostic tools needed to give patients the right treatment. As a result, all serious cases were treated with Atropine — the medication used to treat cases of poisoning by organophosphate pesticides. Indeed, many if not all patients had sprayed the highly toxic organophosphate monocrotophos.
However, in most cases it had been mixed with other substances such as Polo, which is not an organophosphate. Bandu Sonule, who died in this hospital, was an example of one such case.
He had told both the hospital staff and his wife Geeta that he had applied the Syngenta pesticide Polo mixed with other substances that he could not name. There was no means of diagnosing what had poisoned him, so he was given Atropine.
Yet in high doses Atropine can cause severe symptoms: agitation, hallucinations, delirium, cramp and coma. Those who witnessed it report that it was a horrific sight. On the day that Bandu Sonule died, year-old Sumesh Kanande from the village of Lomi was also lying in the hospital with his hands and feet tied to the bed. He had become dizzy and nauseous after spraying a cocktail of various pesticides, including Polo and Monocil, three days in a row. He passed out in hospital. Four days later, he woke up and found himself tied to his bed.
A dozen other sprayers lay around him.
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Haribhau Kumbhekar was admitted to the hospital in Yavatmal a week after Sumesh Kanande had left. He had been spraying a mix of Polo and other pesticides for 12 days in a row, he told us when we visited him in the small village of Bhari where he lives with his family. The landowner had not told him what other pesticides were in the mix.
On the 12 th day he got diarrhoea and felt ill. The next morning his daughter took him to the hospital in Yavatmal in an auto rickshaw; at 3 p.
When he woke up again, his limbs were twitching, and he tried to rip out his drip; his daughter called out to the relatives of other patients to help hold him down on the bed, and he remained tied down for 15 days. Today, Haribhau, who looks significantly older than his stated age — 53 — only has the energy for light work. Even speaking seems to tire him out. He repeatedly loses his train of thought when trying to remember or answer specific questions. When this happens, his daughter Annapurna intervenes. All she can tell us is that he had drunk alcohol and then a pesticide.
Then a month ago she lost her five-year-old son; he had suddenly contracted a high fever and the treatment he received in the provincial hospital failed to save him. Then last October she lost her father — or, at least, the man that she had known up to then. Haribhau is still alive; he is sitting right next to her, leaning on the plastered wall and staring at the ceiling.
The rupees approx. Bandu Sonule, Sumesh Kanande and Haribhau Kumbhekar had all sprayed the Syngenta pesticide Polo — but all in combination with different insecticides, fungicides and plant-growth regulators. However, out of the several dozen men who reported symptoms after using Polo there are other, more clear-cut, cases that shed light on whether the substance really is as harmless as Syngenta claims. One of these cases is that of Hiroman Soyam, a year-old farmer and agricultural worker. In September, he also ended up in the hospital after spraying a cotton field.
However, according to him, he had not sprayed a mix of different substances; he had filled his canister with a single pesticide — Polo — mixed with water. He recounted how it had been hot and very windy, and how the spray had blown into his face. When he woke up the following day, his cheeks, eyes and chest were swollen, he had a fever, diarrhoea, and could barely speak or see. In the hospital, he had to lie on the floor for three days with an infusion, until he was allocated a bed, which he was tied to after being treated with an intravenous fluid, probably Atropine.
Hiroman has still not recovered. Archana told us that she hopes that her year-old daughter and year-old son will one day escape work on the cotton fields. Hiroman Soyam is not the only man who was admitted to hospital last year after applying Polo mixed with water. Another is the farmer Purushottam Khadse from the village of Inzala. He was poisoned less severely; after several days he could see normally again, and today he no longer suffers from any after effects. He still has some left over though; he opens a small hatch in the hall of his house and pulls an unopened white sack out of a plastic bag.
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Wear protective clothing, mask, goggles and boots while spraying. In case of any sign of poisoning, immediately consult the doctor. Apply symptomatic therapy. Not a single word is written in Marathi, the only language that most people here speak. There is a small leaflet stuck to the package with the warning printed in small print in 12 different languages — including Marathi.
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But Purushottam Khadse never opened the leaflet. If he had, he would have found words printed so small that they can barely be deciphered by the naked eye. Syngenta is a member of Croplife, the international lobby organisation of agrochemical companies, for which full compliance with the FAO Code is a pre-requisite to membership — in theory at least.
Our stewardship covers responsible agriculture programs, as well as safe handling and storage of our products. We wanted to see how this works in practice — so we hunted for the shop in Ghatanji where Purushottam Khadse bought his Polo. Next to them are three statues of the goddess Lakshmi who embodies luck, beauty and — last but not least — prosperity.
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What happens when you buy one of these pesticides? The shop-owner tells us that he uses a felt-tip pen to write on the container the ratio for mixing the pesticide, and what plants to use it on. He tells us openly that if the infestation is serious, he recommends mixing together two pesticides, such as a fungicide and an insecticide, for efficiency. Anyone who cannot read and write gives their consent by dipping their thumb in ink and stamping the page.
Neither is providing them with access to protective equipment. This year, only the German company BASF provided one pair of blue plastic gloves with every bottle of one of its fungicides. The only man we met who had protective equipment was Sumesh Kanande. Last year, after he left the hospital, a government representative gave him protective equipment sponsored by one of the biggest agri-business companies in India. We try on the equipment, which shows us that you can barely breathe when wearing the mask; after just a few breaths the glasses steam up.
The plastic apron will make him sweat even more, opening his pores for the pesticide to enter. On the other hand, his back, on which he often carries the leaky spray canister, remains unprotected. Article 3. Not a single farmer or agricultural worker we speak to has ever been given protective equipment by a sales outlet. It appears that anyone who has not been seriously poisoned themselves has little awareness of the dangers of toxic pesticides. The young man, Akash, tells us that he always sprays the pesticide barefoot but has not yet experienced any negative symptoms.
If he wore shoes, they would get stuck in the moist ground with every step he took and would soon become very heavy. Once the pesticides have been used, the containers they were sold in are recycled for other purposes. Walker the unusual name could have also contributed to her success. She would keep the name until the end of her life, despite divorcing Charles, who had played such a great role in the development of her business, in However, while Sarah was dealing with this latest wave of personal trouble, her company in the management of which she also involved her daughter was growing rapidly, and in she even opened her own beauty salon in New York City.
She achieved this success with a unique haircare method and an army of agents that worked to popularize it among black women across the United States.
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