Home / Wellness / Environment / Dear editor: Cocorite and environs—and God knows where else—at risk due to dangerous pesticide!

Dear editor: Cocorite and environs—and God knows where else—at risk due to dangerous pesticide!

“[…] Through a friend I was able to find out that Paraquat is in fact on the radar of three ministries: Health, Agriculture, and Local Government, because of its danger to the environment and also as a method for suicide.

“[…] The residential Cocorite coastal area where the spraying is to take place is very windy and Paraquat drift is a certainty. Everyone, including commuters, residents, and service providers, will be affected whenever this invisible toxin is sprayed in residential areas, as those in leadership positions do not control, or monitor, where this poison is used…”

The following letter to the editor on the dangers associated with the use of pesticide, Paraquat Dichloride—which is linked to Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disease and chronic bronchitis—was submitted to Wired868 by Serina A Hearn:

Photo: Paraquat Dichloride (aka Sunquat 27 or Gramoxone) is banned in 32 countries around the world–including countries that produce it for export to vulnerable nations.

What would you say if I told you that someone had plans to spray deadly poison next to our ocean, on hectares of land between WestShore Medical Private Hospital, the residence of hundreds at Bayside Towers, Western Main Road commuters, and Cocorite residents?

Would you be outraged? Would you consider such plans as reckless, environmentally hazardous, and unconscionable?

Paraquat Dichloride (aka Sunquat 27 or Gramoxone) is the most acutely toxic herbicide to be marketed over the last 60 years. While its less potent sister Round-up is linked to cancer; Paraquat increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disease, as well as causing wheezing and chronic bronchitis.

It is banned in 32 countries, including all of the European Union, Great Britain, Thailand, Costa Rica, Kuwait, Cambodia, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Even China, who exports 80,000 tonnes a year of Paraquat will ban its use for their citizens, starting this September.

Due to Covid-19, a visit in March to my mother, a resident in Cocorite, made it impossible for me to return to the United States, where I live and work—caring for many residential properties using sustainable garden practices to support wildlife, particularly of endangered insects.

Photo: A Bella moth caterpillar on a Crotalaria incana plant.

Last week as I exercised in where used to be Trinidad’s first seaplane-port in the 1930s to 40s, I saw a man weed-whacking the wild Crotalaria incana (aka ‘shack-shack’) and the Passiflora foetida. Both plants were covered in caterpillars.

Shack-shack is the only host plant to the Bella moth caterpillar, and Passiflora fortida is the host plant to the Passion butterfly—without these two plants these beautiful creatures would go extinct here.

I asked the weed-wacker why he was destroying the plants, and he explained that his work was in preparation for poisoning the entire area with Sunquat 27. I was surprised, and expressed my concerns over the dangers of its use, so close to a residential area. He pointed out that Paraquat (its active ingredient) is not banned here, he was ‘doing nothing wrong’ and needed to finish his job to get paid.

He had been told to spray the entire area and kill everything right down to the ground. He would soon be coming back to complete his work. The lot is in the Diego Martin West constituency.

I thought of my mother, and her recent bronchial issues, and called the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), but without success. Through a friend I was able to find out that Paraquat is in fact on the radar of three ministries: Health, Agriculture, and Local Government, because of its danger to the environment and also as a method for suicide (two teaspoons are fatal; between 1996-97, 76% of all suicides in T&T was due to Paraquat).

Photo: A snap of Cocorite, Trinidad.

However, the only legal stipulation to those selling the product is that they are supposed to make a record of the purchaser. Answers to these questions are unknown:

Is the collected information monitored? Is there regulation of where it can, or cannot, be used? Do those using it have to be licensed? Is it restricted for commercial use only?

According to a 2006 report written by environmental scientist Richard Isenring (MSc chemistry and environmental sciences) it was widely recommended not to spray Paraquat near inhabited areas, neither during dead calm or high windy periods.

In the United States, it is only used in agricultural settings and only by licensed professionals.

The residential Cocorite coastal area where the spraying is to take place is very windy and Paraquat drift is a certainty. Everyone, including commuters, residents, and service providers, will be affected whenever this invisible toxin is sprayed in residential areas—as those in leadership positions do not control, or monitor, where this poison is used.

A friend at Bayside Towers said that the last time they sprayed next-door he and his wife felt its effects as it blew inside through their AC. I am further concerned about the effect it has had on the WestShore Medical Private Hospital’s patients; in the past, and now in the near future.

Photo: Paraquat increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disease, as well as causing wheezing and chronic bronchitis.

The high risks to public health and the environment, under working conditions that have no guidelines and is not monitored in many developing countries, make the use of Paraquat incompatible with sustainable agriculture. Prolonged use of Paraquat destroys beneficial microbial activity in the soil and may cause toxic effects in crops.

History has a way of repeating itself: I remember when crops were dusted by airplanes, for decades, with DDT in Caroni Ltd. Dolphins in the Great Barrier reef that were tested in 2020 were found to have DDT in their tissue, 45 years after its use was banned in Australia!

I wonder, how the immune systems of those who grew up in central Trinidad were affected by all that DDT dust drifting in the air.

According to investigative reporter Danny Hakim in the New York Times, Paraquat, and other deadly chemicals, are often manufactured in the same countries that have banned them. Switzerland, the United Kingdom and China are among the countries that have banned Paraquat’s use, but continue to manufacture and export the chemical to other nations.

The irony, of course, is that many countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, continue to import these deadly chemicals, poisoning ourselves, while wealthier and more powerful nations benefit. These manufacturers depend on the chemicals remaining legal in more economically vulnerable nations in order to continue making their profits.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley tends to his home garden in May 2020.
(via Dr Keith Rowley Facebook page)

Their obvious lack of concern with the lives and livelihoods put at risk is not their citizens’ problem, but ours. As a sovereign nation we have the ability to choose how we treat our land, our environment, and our people.

T&T has exhibited thus far a responsible and admirable response to the Covid-19 pandemic, showing up many of its wealthier counterparts. However, a silent slaughter of wildlife continues, endangering our population.

This is evident in the dismal record of how we tear down our protected forest reserves—with unenforced laws and few held accountable—as chairman of the Wildlife and Environmental Protection of Trinidad and Tobago (WEPTT) Kristopher Rattansingh attested in the Guardian on 26 May 2020.

Given the recent wake up call to provide food security to our country, it is important that we understand that poisoning our crops, soil, and wildlife with Paraquat is not a progressive solution to unwanted growth.
Paraquat used close to residents and businesses to kill ‘weeds’ at home and on commercial properties in not acceptable.

In the case of Bayside Towers, Paraquat had been used there, until recently, for at least three years—on the grounds, around the swimming pool, children, the elderly, and all in between—as a weed suppressant. It has (hopefully) finally stopped because the alarm was raised.

Photo: The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) logo.
(Courtesy EMA.co.tt)

But because Paraquat Dichloride (aka Sunquat 27 or Gramoxone) is legal, no one is ‘doing anything wrong’. If our leadership fails us, shouldn’t we as a community demand that this poison be monitored properly and only be used where the public is not exposed to it—or, preferably, banned altogether?

As global insect populations drastically decline, the delicate equilibrium which keeps our environment habitable and healthy is faltering, and yet we turn a blind eye.

Famous biologist Edward O Wilson once observed: If humans were to suddenly disappear, the earth would ‘regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago’. But ‘if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos’.

Besides the caterpillar host plants and their winged offspring that will soon be poisoned in Cocorite, here, under our watch, many other beneficial plants that support wildlife directly or indirectly will also be wiped out by Paraquat.

We can call them canaries in the mine. We owe it to ourselves, and our children, to ask: who is next?

Image: A satirical take on the environment.

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Letters to the Editor
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