Jan. 11, 2008
Sri Lanka will phase out the use of the herbicide, paraquat, over the next three years, according to a report in Sri Lankan newspaper Daily News. The decision has been taken by the country's Pesticide Technical and Advisory Committee, because of the very high death rates due to paraquat poisoning, especially among end users.
All paraquat formulations, including those with Syngenta's Inteon technology, will have to be reduced in concentration to 6.5% from January 1st 2008. Existing stocks of paraquat formulations with concentration higher than 6.5% are to be depleted through regular marketing channels. But the annual quantity of paraquat formulations sold in 2008 should not exceed the present level. The phasing-out scheme will be worked out by the end of 2008.
There are around 400-500 deaths each year in Sri Lanka from paraquat poisoning, the majority of which are due to impulsive ingestions of chemicals stored in or near homes. In Sri Lanka, the ingestion of paraquat has a 65% mortality rate. As per a UN WHO report, between 60% and 90% of suicides in Sri Lanka in the past decade have been caused by pesticide ingestion.
The herbicide has been at the centre of much controversy, with many groups calling for a ban on products that contain the ai, due to its high toxicity levels. Syngenta originally developed the non-selective herbicide and sells it as Gramoxone Max, a 3 lb/gallon (360 g/litre) formulation. It introduced a 2 lb/gallon formulation, Gramoxone Inteon, in the US in 2005. Inteon contains a gelling agent that slows dispersion of the product from the stomach to the small intestines, and also contains an emetic agent. It results in a ten-fold reduction in toxicity of the undiluted product.
Syngenta has expressed disappointment at the decision and stands by the safety of paraquat when used in accordance with recommendations. The company highlights the fact that the decision is a reaction to the gross misuse of the product and does not call into question its safety -in normal product use". Syngenta questions the value of diluted paraquat formulations, as these would lead to larger volume containers in the market, making them more difficult to store securely. Syngenta acknowledges the government's stance that secure storage is one of the key challenges to the prevention of suicides.
Paraquat was also banned by the European Court of the First Instance in July 2007, although Syngenta plans to re-apply for an EU registration.