x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Death fails to stem use of pesticides in UAE

YouGov survey finds fewer than half of the respondents said they were aware of the safety precautions to be taken when using pesticides.

Habiba Hisham, left, who died from exposure to pesticides, and her brother Abdul Rahman, 6, who recovered from critical illness.
Habiba Hisham, left, who died from exposure to pesticides, and her brother Abdul Rahman, 6, who recovered from critical illness.

ABU DHABI // More than half of the residents who took part in a national survey have admitted using pesticides themselves, rather than hiring professionals.

The survey follows a spate of deaths and illnesses from misuse of pesticides, and stern warnings from experts that the job should be left to licensed professionals.

Habiba Hisham, 2, died this month in Sharjah after exposure to aluminium phosphide, a highly toxic pesticide.

And this week, 12 labourers were admitted to hospital in Sharjah with severe vomiting and stomach pains after being exposed to the same chemical.

It is legally permitted for use by licensed professionals only. But a National reporter was still able to buy it "under the counter".

The survey, conducted for Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) by YouGov, shows more than half (52 per cent) of the 753 respondents said they had used pesticides themselves, although 22 per cent had also used professionals.

Fewer than half (45 per cent) of the respondents said they were aware of the safety precautions to be taken when using pesticides.

And even more worrying was that only one in 10 (11 per cent) warned their neighbours when they would be using pesticide. In Habiba's case, the pesticide was being used in a neighbouring flat.

Only a third (31 per cent) found out before using pesticide what should be done in an emergency.

"The deaths that happened in the UAE were not just because the neighbours weren't informed," said Dinesh R, the technical manager at National Pest Control.

"But it was largely due to the use of aluminium phosphide by unscrupulous individuals for purposes it wasn't intended for.

"Normally, when pest control services are carried out by a professional company, neighbours can have peace of mind."

Two fifths of respondents (39 per cent) admitted they had not read the full label and directions before using the pesticide.

"Pesticides are safe only when properly and carefully applied according to the product's label direction," said Motahar Hossain, a pest control specialist at the Dubai Municipality.

"No person is allowed to conduct pest control, import or deal with pesticides unless they obtain a permit or the pesticides are in conformity with the [municipality]."

Only half made sure they used the exact amount directed by the label, while two thirds (64 per cent) did not use measures such as protective gloves, long trousers and long-sleeved shirts.

"All these actions are extremely important," said Mr Dinesh. "Most importantly, I would not recommend the general public to use pesticides on their own but instead, use the services from a professional pest control company."

Only a third (33 per cent) changed their clothes immediately after using pesticides, and 19 per cent admitted to not washing their hands afterwards.

Almost half (43 per cent) admitted they did not remove children, toys and pets from the area and 35 per cent did not remove or cover any food substances.

"This is essential for the health and safety of the people, children, animals and the environment in general," said Mr Dinesh. "There are many factors to be considered that only a trained professional would know."

But even when consulting professionals, residents are not being careful enough. Of those who had used a pest control company, 15 per cent admitted having taking no steps to check the company's credentials, saying they "simply trusted that the company knew what it was doing".

"People should not blindly trust anyone," said Mr Dinesh. "They must verify with the relevant municipalities if the company is authorised, do some research, ask for references and see how long it has been operating for."

The municipality has a list of approved pest control companies that residents are urged to consult when they wish to have pesticides applied at home.

"Unfortunately, it is situations like the recent death in Sharjah that wake people up on the dangers of pesticides," said Dana Shadid, the project manager at Al Aan TV.

"These dangers are not highlighted as often as they should be, so unless the awareness on the dangers of pesticides increases then the figures shown in the results may not change."

Nabd Al Arab is on Al Aan TV at 8pm tonight.

cmalek@thenational.ae