DUBAI // Pesticides which have been banned by the Ministry of Environment and Water because they are highly dangerous and capable of killing are being sold in shops around the country, industry experts said yesterday.
In November 2009, the ministry followed international practices, and banned 167 chemicals because they caused a danger to people and the environment. Another 32 substances were allowed to be used, but only by licenced operators. Yet the sale of these dangerous pesticides is common in small shops and on the black market.
Less than a week ago a man died after spraying his apartment with pesticide.
His death was one of several recent incidents of the misuse of pesticides that has caused a number of deaths and illnesses.
And last year, two 5-month-old baby boys in Ajman died after inhaling pesticide fumes coming from an adjacent flat that had been fumigated.
Despite the strict regulations many of the banned poisons are still available, and highly specialised chemicals that should be only be handled by trained professionals are being sold to non-qualified people.
Izziddin Khader, the managing partner at Technical Agriculture Establishment, which sells legal pesticides, said: "Regulations are issued, but there is no one to follow them up. No one has staff to visit the market, to make inspections and to see what is there."
Hassan Ali Shaban Mohamed, the manager of the agriculture division at Al Naboodah Trading, said: "I see material here that I have not seen for 30 years."
One example is methomyl, an insecticide once commonly used on alfalfa grass but now banned because it is too dangerous. Despite the ban, it is sold illegally, he said. Diazinon, once used to kill cockroaches, ants and fleas, is another example of a banned substance easily available on the black market.
Phostoxin tablets, although not banned for use by professionals, are restricted. Yet they are finding their way into the hands of the public, who use them without safety measures. The tablets release phosphine gas, which is lethal to many animals even in low concentrations.
"We as experts never open that product without a special type of mask," Mr Mohamed said. "People here think it is aspirin."
Although the sale of pesticides is tightly controlled in Dubai, that is not the case in the rest of the country, and are available to buy in small shops in Sharjah, Al Dhaid, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah the main offenders, he said.
Mr Khader said that another common offence is changing the labelling of pesticide products, with vendors claiming to be selling one substance, but the package's contents are something else. His company has been facing problems with illegal vendors selling chemicals under its brand name for the past year, he said.
Besides damaging the company's interests, the practice can be dangerous for users, who need to know exactly what substances they are using, especially in cases of emergency. If pesticides are inhaled or ingested, hospitals check the chemical's packaging to know exactly what treatment to offer.
He added that although cases of death and grave injury attract the most public attention, the real danger in misusing pesticides lies in the long-term effects. The fact that a person is not suffering symptoms immediately after handling banned pesticides does not mean they are out of danger.
These pesticides are accumulated in the liver and other internal parts of the body," he said. "After some time - it could be days, it could be years - they will start creating problems and no one realises where this comes from.
"One way to solve this problem is to have a team, making inspections in the market," he added, explaining that inspectors should take samples for laboratory testing and the authority should fine offenders or report them to the police.
Responsibility for handling pesticide vendors and pest control companies is shared by the Ministry of Environment and Water and the municipalities in each emirate. Ministry officials were not available for comment yesterday. Officials at Sharjah Municipality also did not offer comments.
In Ajman, authorities said they continuously carried out inspections. Pest-control companies must submit the names and types of pesticides they use, said Khalid Al Hosni, the head of the Ajman Municipality Public Health and Environment Department.
"Every company is expected to keep records showing the facts of chemicals purchases and the destruction of expired pesticides," he said. "Our inspectors are regularly checking on all these requirements."
They must also carry a copy of their certificate of approval from the Ministry of Environment and Water, and their clients have a right to see the licence, he said.
Hisham Al Yahya, the head of the public health pest control section at Dubai Municipality, said residents should never handle strong substances on their own and should only use registered pest control companies.
"Not anyone can just open a pest control company - they are required to have qualified and trained professionals, who must pass an exam. And only once they pass will they be issued with a municipality ID," he said, adding that customers should always ask to see the ID of a service provider.
"We have repeatedly warned residents against hiring companies that pretend to be licensed by us. These individuals slip fliers under doors and ads in papers and try to attract residents with an offer of cheaper services. Give the municipality these fliers so that we can then investigate and catch these criminals, otherwise it could lead to a potential tragedy," Mr Al Yahya said.
* With additional reporting by Maey al Shoush and Yasin Kakande