HA NOI — The highly toxic weedkiller paraquat, banned in most countries because it is lethal to humans, is readily available in Viet Nam, to the dismay of health officials.
Major hospitals in Ha Noi and HCM City have reported numerous fatalities over the last few years because of exposure to the herbicide.
Dr Nguyen Thanh Mai, from Bach Mai Hospital, said ingestion of the herbicide resulted in irreversible organ failure.
"Patients who are poisoned with paraquat are in a hopeless position because there is no cure."
She said the fatality rate was between 70-80 per cent.
Paraquat was liberally used in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta five years ago to kill wild grass. Recently, farmers in the northern provinces have been found using the pesticide, Mai said.
Paraquat poisoning destroys a person's major organs – such as the liver, lungs and kidneys – within four to five hours of ingestion.
If a person consumes more than 20ml of the pesticide, they will die immediately, Mai said. If they drink 10ml or less, they will die five to seven days after ingestion. Smaller doses can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, lung damage and death three to five months later, Mai, said.
In the last three years, 42 people have been admitted to Bach Mai Hospital with paraquat poisoning. Of those, 34 died. Mai said most of the victims had intentionally tried to commit suicide.
This month alone, four people were admitted to the hospital with paraquat poisoning – just one was subsequently discharged but remains under observation. The other three patients have been under intensive care. Two were almost certainly going to die because they ingested about 50ml of the herbicide, Mai said.
There were no statistics available on the number of people who have died from ingesting the herbicide in Viet Nam, Mai said.
Meanwhile, in HCM City 403 people were admitted to Cho Ray Hospital in 2009 with pesticide poisoning – 86 later died.
Vo Van Quyen, deputy director of the Ha Noi Market Watch Department, said paraquat was widely available in the agricultural sector and that it should be outlawed.
Do Thanh Ha, head of the Chemical Substance Information Division under the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Chemical Substance Department, said his staff would work with local authorities to try and get pesticide manufacturers to reduce toxicity levels in their products.
The department also plans to force retailers to apply for permits to sell pesticides. Before being issued with a permit, they will be required to take part in a three-month education course on plant protection and the harmful effects of pesticides on human health.
"Having a knowledge about pesticides and their dangers will encourage retailers to act more responsibly," she said. — VNS