Farmers charged that the bulk of the Nadu and Samba rice available for human consumption in the market had been chemically treated using highly toxic preservatives that made it unfit even for animal consumption.
Public Health Inspectors (PHI) too confirmed that there were instances of it and some cases were pending before Courts.
Meanwhile, head of the Department of Pharmacology of the Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences of the Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Dr. Channa Jayasumana while adding that insecticides from the Pyrethroid group, organophosphate pesticides and fungicides such as Mancozeb were what were being used in fumigating (using compressors on sacks of rice) rice in mills for the purpose of treating and preserving the rice stocks for a period of up to one year. Generally, rice can be kept for a period of only two to three months.
He noted that the insecticides, pesticides and fungicides were highly poisonous, adding that some were banned.
Certain rice mill owners and hoarders obtained licences to apply chemicals in violation of all standards established in this regard, while farmers pointed out that rice was being polished using poisonous chemicals in locations in Aralaganwila and Pannala.
“This stock of old rice is what rice mill owners and hoarders are putting out into the market. It is sold with tags such as ‘Made in Pakistan’ in the packets, thus making it difficult to find which rice is what,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the Polonnaruwa Kidney Disease Prevention Unit said that out of the 5377 patients with chronic kidney disease and chronic kidney disease with unknown etiology in the district, the majority were from Medirigiriya, Dimbulagala, Thamankaduwa and Welikanda.
Chief Medical Officer of the Unit, Dr. Malin Methsuriya citing research and surveys conducted by Dr. Jayasumana said that 10% of schoolchildren were diagnosed with the protein albumin in their urine. It is also expected there would be a minimum of 100 new cases of patients with kidney diseases per month.
It has been revealed through research by the Rajarata University and the University of Ruhuna that agrochemicals contain arsenic, cadmium and lead with residual effects.
While farmers are among the primary victims, some of their wives who have never engaged in field agricultural activities have become affected too. The research has thus revealed indirect contamination.
Chemical analyses should be conducted to ascertain such and the Government Analyst’s Department handles nothing in this regard. The National Poisons Information Centre (NPIC) at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka explained that pesticide residue in food was a well-known phenomenon that had been taking place for several years now.
“The rice presently circulating includes 40 million kilograms which were declared unfit for human consumption. They apply chemicals using fumigation to kills pests. There are methods stipulated with regard to applying chemicals in such a manner. The fumigation must take place in the presence of an official who possesses knowledge of the relevant chemicals and methods of fumigation.
Yet, due to the present system, offenders are able to get their hands on poisonous chemicals without much difficulty.
“They directly apply in the manner when one is ripening fruits. There are ways of fumigating where one places the chemicals in a separate container inside a four walled room which contains the rice and then take the chemicals out within a specified time period (a couple of hours). What is taking place is entirely wrong,” he added.