By Kayode Ojewale
FUMIGATION is a method of pest control which involves a process of disinfecting an area by spraying dangerous chemicals. Manufacturers of these chemicals (fumigants and insecticides) usually issue strong warnings to users boldly written on the containers that they should avoid inhalation and contact with food, the skin or mouth.
This is due to the health challenges these hazardous chemicals can pose when we are exposed to them. Fumigators and anyone within the premises while fumigation is ongoing may be at the highest risk of exposure to these chemicals if necessary protective clothing is not worn as constant exposure may cause vital organ damage or malfunction and even death.
Among many other deadly fumigants commonly used are hydrogen cyanide, nicotine, naphthalene, acrylonitrile, ethylene dibromide and methyl bromide. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, recently banned the use of methyl bromide as a fumigant for pest control in crops. The agency, in a press release early this year, said methyl bromide is colourless, odourless, non-corrosive and non-flammable toxic vapour primarily used as a fumigant in stored product pest management.
“Methyl bromide is readily absorbed through the lungs…as a result of inhalation. Methyl bromide is a dangerous cumulative poison. First symptoms are due to damage to the nervous system, and may be delayed from 48 hours to as long as several months after exposure. This delay, combined with methyl bromide’s lack of odour, means that the victim may not realise that exposure is occurring until much has passed,” the press statement further revealed. NAFDAC, therefore, advised farmers, exporters of agricultural produce and agro input dealers to desist from using methyl bromide as a pesticide as safer alternatives are available.
When this odourless and non-irritant fumigant is used, one cannot smell it, but alas it silently kills after long inhalation of the toxic fumes. A research study found out that both insecticides and herbicides significantly increased the risk of Parkinson’s disease (a chronic neurological disorder affecting movement, characterised by tremor, slowness of movement and postural instability) by 70 per cent. Long time exposure to these chemicals may also cause cancer.
Sniper insecticide, a synthetic organophosphorus which belongs to the DDVP chemical family (2, 2-dicholorovinyl dimethyl phosphate compound), is indiscriminately being used by many Nigerians as indoor insecticides which is not the original purpose.
There is an instructional warning on the bottle which says that diluted portions should be applied to crops and there is a ‘withdrawal’ time in which the crop should not be consumed that the active ingredient can degrade to minimal level before consumption.
In recent times, given its effectiveness in killing insects and rodents better than well-established brands of insecticides, sniper now holds sway as it has become popular in its use as indoor insecticide among Nigerians. The affordability of sniper compared to other insecticides has also fueled its demand and use. Health experts have warned on its dangerous effects, especially to respiratory organs. Inhalation, absorption through the skin, ingestion and eye contact are the various ways a person may be exposed to the associated risk of sniper.
It has also been observed that sniper is ranked among the most available tools for suicide here in Nigeria. In fact, suicide by sniper insecticide appears to have become a popular choice for suicidal Nigerians. So sad!
The World Health Organisation, WHO, estimated that the method used for 20 percent of global suicide was through pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occurred in rural areas in low- and middle-income countries.
Another study conducted by the Suicide Research and Prevention Initiative, SURPIN, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, revealed that out of every 66 suicide victims cumulatively recorded in 2018, only about 37.9 per cent committed (or attempted) it through conventional means, while nearly 62.1 per cent bade life farewell through the consumption of poison – which most times happens to be sniper. The reason for this is not farfetched: sniper is readily available.
This, therefore, brings to the fore the dangerous effects of the uncontrolled use and unregulated availability of sniper on the society at large. The big challenge of easy accessibility of sniper is the reason you find it almost everywhere – in the markets, on the streets and by the roadsides.
It will be recalled that sometime last year, NAFDAC banned the use of sniper in the preservation and storage of agricultural commodities. The agency further gave directives on the proper use of agrochemicals. That could be said to be a step in the right direction but more can be done to curb this rising threat of indiscriminate use of sniper.
Relevant authorities and agencies must leave no stone unturned by ensuring proper use of sniper pesticide. To nip this menace in the bud, there is also the need to educate people on how to apply this chemical properly.
An outright placing of a ban on the sale and use of sniper may not be feasible given the economic realities of the country. But its accessibility must be hugely regulated and strict measures put in place to monitor the sale, distribution and use of this sniper insecticide.
One will not be playing to the gallery to conclude this way: If sniper accessibility is fully regulated nationwide, then sniper-related suicides will drastically reduce if not totally stopped.