Phorate poisoning in India

In June two pesticide accidents occurred in Idukki district, Kerala, one in a cardamom plantation and another in a tea estate. The pesticide involved was phorate, a highly hazardous organophosphate (OP). 

Cardamom and tea plantations in Keralam (the Indian spelling for Kerala) follow an intensive schedule of application of both fertilizers and pesticides. 
    Labourers, both permanent and temporary, apply pesticides without any protective clothing or equipment except thin transparent gloves while applying the OP phorate. Children of 14 to 18 years are also employed on a daily wage basis to work on the plantation, including pesticide application. They are paid only half the wages of adults. 
    Application of phorate in the soil is a common practice in cardamom plantations. On 26 June, Kannan, a boy of 16 years who was working as a temporary labourer became ill while applying phorate. He started work as usual by 8 a.m. By 10 a.m. he felt unwell and lay down in the plantation. After sometime he vomited. Hearing this others rushed to the site and found him on the ground foaming at the mouth.
    On the same day another phorate accident happened in a tea estate in Idukki. Bamboo is being grown in this plantation as a part of diversification plan following the fall in the price of tea. 
    Workers had applied phorate around bamboo seeds in a plot of the plantation. In the afternoon women came to pluck the tea-leaves. Since phorate was not applied for the tea, the women did not suspect anything. But within half an hour of starting the work they were feeling dizzy, and experienced blurring of vision, vomiting and dizziness. Men who supervise their work also felt unwell and all of them were hospitalized. In total 41 people were affected, although fortunately there were no fatalities. 
    All this happened when the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations (ILO) clearly mentions that 'Workers ... must undergo an annual medical exam at the beginning of each agricultural season. Blood cholinesterase activity must be determined before the work starts. In the event of prolonged work periods, this activity should be determined at intervals of 3-4 days.' 
    The plantation workers of Keralam are exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals without knowing what they are and without any protection. They live among the plantation, drinking the pesticide-contaminated water. Their children are born here and they play in soil which carries a number of toxic chemical substances.

Phorate Poisoning of children and women in Idukki district of Keralam State India,, 23 July 2001. 

[This article first appeared in Pesticides News No. 53, September 2001, page 5]