The National Poisons Information Centre (NPIC) at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka last week revealed that it had received several cases of Glufosinate poisoning during the recent past.

Head of the NPIC, Dr. Waruna Gunathilake said that although the exact figure had yet to be analyzed most recently five cases had been reported concerning Glufosinate poisoning, where the patients had initially been admitted with mild neurological symptoms which had subsequently worsened. According to the Centre, the symptoms depended upon the quantity of Glufosinate one came into contact with.

Lecturer-in-Charge of the Department of Pharmacology of the Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences of the Rajarata University, Dr. Channa Jayasumana said that the herbicide Glufosinate was promoted by two leading companies in Sri Lanka, which he claimed was 15 times more toxic than the banned Glyphosate, which was linked to the chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology plaguing the denizens including farmers, especially in the North Central Province.

Glufosinate (Phosphinothricin (PPT)/Glufosinate Ammonium Salt) is the chemical name, and is marketed under the trade names ‘Lifeline’ and ‘Basta’, Dr. Jayasumana added.

Agrochemicals have two categories, namely chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The three categories of pesticides include insecticides, herbicides/weedicides, and fungicides.

Glufosinate directly inhibits testosterone, the male sexual hormone and thereby impacts the reproductive system and fertility of the male, he observed.

“The license for Glufosinate was issued way back. It was, however, not sold until after Glyphosate was banned. Glyphosate is necrotoxic and carcinogenic. Glufosinate is highly toxic. Comparative studies have been done internationally,” he said.

He said it was difficult to regulate once the chemical is made available in the market and added that the ground reality was that the instructions for the use and safety measures issued by the Office of the Registrar of Pesticides were not received by the sellers and the farmers.

He said that in the case they were received by the farmers and sellers, they are not followed. “Glufosinate must immediately be withdrawn as otherwise generations of farmers would be adversely impacted. The Government is aware of Glufosinate and its effects,” he explained.

These cases more involved symptoms of poisoning, Dr. Gunathilake mentioned.
“Pesticides are known to be endocrine disrupters. They are known to cause changes in hormones. Without a comparative study we cannot say whether one is more toxic than the other. There must be a scientific background with tests conducted on animals and a survey of world literature. We cannot infer things as such would have severe repercussions,” he pointed out.

He also opined that certain people attempting suicide, in the absence of the availability of banned substances such as Glyphosate, would ingest other alternatives which were commonly available in the market such as Basta.