Experts say there is an "urgent need" for pest control companies to be better regulated after two baby boys were killed by pesticides sprayed into a neighbour's flat. The five-month-old triplets, Suhail and Ali Bakari, died after their Nigerian neighbour's home in Ajman was fumigated to clear it of bedbugs.
The type of pesticide sprayed into the flat has not been revealed. "We are still investigating. The Indian pest controllers say they warned the Nigerian family to stay away from their home for two days," said Brig Ali Alwan, the director general of Ajman Police, referring to the occupants of the flat that was fumigated. The boys, their sister, Halla, and their parents became ill on Friday. The rest of the family has recovered.
"This tragic incident is an indication of the urgent need to address this serious issue," said Dr Rania Dghaim, a chemistry professor at Zayed University. "People who work with these chemicals need to receive specialised safety training and regulations should be developed to minimise exposure of the general public to these hazardous chemicals." A representative for the Pesticide Action Network, a British non-governmental organisation, suggested the Government should launch an investigation to determine what went wrong in this case.
"Was the pesticide used legal, were the operators properly trained?" said Ruth Beckmann, a project information officer with the network. The World Health Organisation estimates that three million people are poisoned by pesticides every year, and about 20,000 die. Dr Dghaim said children are particularly vulnerable. Their higher rates of cell division and their lower body weights mean an increased concentration of pesticides can build up in their bodies.
"The higher respiratory rates in children also lead to higher inhalation rates," she said. Dr Margaret Sanborn, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, who has overseen several studies on the health effects of pesticides, said the deaths suggested "an acutely toxic substance". "I suspect it will turn out to be something that was not approved for indoor use. However, children are more susceptible, especially the very young, as their metabolising systems for toxins are not yet mature."
Last year, the Ministry of Environment and Water banned 167 pesticides used for agriculture and pest control services. It later restricted access to 32 more to qualified people only. When asked whether they are considering an inquiry into the case, the ministry said that licensing pest control companies was under the jurisdiction of local authorities. The ministry is responsible for approving pesticides for use in the country.
"Pesticides used here are subject to scrutiny to ensure their quality and safety," the ministry statement said. Under federal law, violating pesticide regulations can mean imprisonment of no more than three months and a Dh20,000 to Dh100,000 fine. In January, the ministry organised a workshop with industry representatives, giving them a month's deadline to declare stockpiles of the banned pesticides, which were supposed to be destroyed. In March, it said work on the database was ongoing.
At least some of the chemicals on the banned list can still be used until stocks run out, a common practice internationally. New stocks cannot be imported. The Ministry of the Environment did not respond to requests for comment. Besides cases of acute poisoning such as the one in Ajman, studies show that long-term, small-scale exposure to pesticides can increase the risk of serious health problems.
Dr Dghaim said different types of cancers, leukaemia, chronic neurological disorders, and reproductive problems have been linked to some pesticides. * The National