BRINCHANG, Aug 6:
An environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO) has called for a serious clampdown on uncontrolled use of toxic agrochemicals, especially pesticides, that are seriously polluting Sungai Terla, a main source of tap water for Cameron Highlands.
Regional Environmental Awareness of Cameron Highlands (REACH) president Ramakrishnan Ramasamy said the problem had been made worse by the many farms that had mushroomed upstream of the water catchment area in Sungai Terla.
“The farms’ over-reliance on insecticide treatment means that chemicals, when washed through the soil by rain, ends up in the river.
“As farmers are under pressure to increase yields while controlling cost due to unstable vegetable prices, good farming practices are dismissed as they turned to illegal pesticides which are much cheaper, but highly toxic.
“Farmers would also combine the banned pesticides with the legal ones in the hope of getting better results and avoid detection by the authority,” he toldThe Rakyat Post.
He said a water sample taken at the water catchment plant recently had tested positive for E.coli (Escherichia coli), a bacterium that lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals and in some cases can cause death.
REACH is also checking the water for other toxic chemicals, which will be sent to laboratories in United States for testing.
The water testing is part of a comprehensive study funded by a grant from Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP), an international organisation which works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.
“We had also found many empty plastic bottles of banned pesticides which had been dumped into the river.
“The banned pesticides include DDT, endosulfan and eldrine which remain intact in the environment for long periods and can be passed along the food chain.”
Ramakrishnan said the situation was in need of a good legislation that enforced integrity of the farming methods and the farms’ location.
He added that the authority’s only response to the contaminated water was to increase the use of chlorine in water treatment plants to eliminate pathogens.
“But chlorine can react with organic matter in the water and form dangerous chemical compounds that can lead to increased health risks when the water is consumed over a long term,” he said.
A check byThe Rakyat Postfound that Sungai Terla is surrounded by farms, with water discharged directly into the river.
Parts of the river are also affected by toxic algae, which looked like black mats covering the river bed.
The algae thrive on nitrates and phosphates from the fertilisers, which help plants to grow.
Ramakrishnan warned that over reliance on agro-chemicals had also resulted in fresh vegetable export being rejected by foreign countries authority for exceeding the prescribed level of toxic chemical residues.
“The vegetables ended up being dumped in the local market instead, and people do not know what they are consuming,” he said.
A local farmer in Kuala Terla, who is currently growing french beans and cabbages, said the use of illegal pesticides was all too common as it could be four times cheaper.
“We know the chemicals are risky as it did not go through proper testing to prove safety to human health and the environment, but what choice do we have.
“Farming is an expensive and risky business, so we need to maximise profit as vegetable prices fluctuate.
“The prices can drop so low that farmers rather dump the crops away,” said the farmer, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal from fellow farmers and the authority.