LA TRINIDAD, Benguet (May 25) — Benguet farmers suspected to be exposed to pesticides submitted for physical, medical and blood examination to determine the level of pesticide toxicity in their blood and how it affects their health.
The research-cum-extension services is part of a comprehensive assessment being done by the National Institute for Health (NIH) of the University of the Philippines Manila among vegetable and cut-flower farmers in La Trinidad, Itogon, Atok, Mankayan, Kapangan and Buguias.
According to Dr. Jinky Leilanie Lu, overall project coordinator, the pesticide exposure study is a two-pronged research and extension services towards developing an integrated geographic information system for pesticide exposure and health problems among vegetable farmers in Benguet. “The blood testing has to be co-related to the farmers’ occupational practices to come up with a comprehensive appreciation of the physical and medical findings,” Lu told Nordis in an interview.
Lu said NIH targeted 100 farmers in each town with some control groups. It turned out, however, that more than 150 showed up in La Trinidad, and more than 100 in all the other municipalities.
Almost all of those who participated were exposed to pesticides, she told Nordis, so it would be hard to determine the control groups in each target town.
Blood testing includes a complete blood count (CBC) and some parameters to test the conditions of the kidneys and the liver of a farmer. “The kidneys filter the blood and tend to be damaged with a certain level of concentration of toxic matters in the blood,” explained Lu, adding the liver likewise removes wastes in the blood.
She also mentioned that a red blood cells cholinesterase test would also be done among those who have been exposed to organo-phosphate (OP) pesticides, which she said tend to cause abnormal cholinesterase, one of many important enzymes needed for the proper functioning of the nervous systems of humans, other vertebrates, and insects.
Lu said the laboratory tests might take two to three months to complete, but assured the farmers they would get the necessary information as soon as the results come out. Extension services like free consultations and referrals may be availed of by those needing it, Lu added.
The project is only an investigation into the pesticide exposure of farmers, the land and water in the vegetable belt in Benguet. Since this is the first of such magnitude, it will establish a baseline data in the target towns and the control areas, according to Lu.
Participating farmers were tested physically, which included examinations of the head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, lungs, heart, abdomen and extremities. Past ailments, lifestyle, food preferences and eating habits, chemical and pesticide exposure, including occupational practices regarding pesticide use, storage and waste disposal were among those asked.
Some of the farmers interviewed by Nordis admit the exposure to commercial inorganic pesticides at least twice a week. They even disclosed their preference not to use protective gadgets such as gloves and masks.
Arnold, 26, is a strawberry farmer in Longlong, a barangay in La Trinidad. He sprays Selecron and Tamaron once a week. He only covers his nose with a handkerchief and lately uses gloves. He observes that he is nauseated every time he handles pesticides. This has been persistent for more than seven years but he only had the chance to see a doctor during the NIH activity.
Denver Daniel, 36, a cut-flower grower in Bahong, also in La Trinidad, has shifted to integrated pest management practice after 14 years of using pesticides.
He still uses Tamaron, Cartap, and Tri-guard but only when necessary. He is not used to wearing any protective gadget when handling pesticides. Like Arnold, he complains of headache and nausea, which he says stays for at least three hours.
Consuelo Pagoy, 66, says she is better off because in her time the land was still fertile and that there were natural elements in the soil that did not allow pests. “Itatta, adda dagiti baro nga imported a bin-i nga adda’t nailaok a ruot nga isu adda’t tumubo a baro a mula a masapul a patayen ta agiyeg ti peste,” (Nowadays, there are new imported seedling materials that come with weeds, which have to be eradicated because they encourage some pests) Pagoy elaborates.
Pagoy, who no longer farms lives near her son-in-law’s flower gardens planted to everlasting. He sprays once a week with no protective clothing.
The surveys and tests were conducted in early May for Itogon, Atok and Mankayan and were completed in May 23 (La Trinidad); May 24 (Buguias); and May 25 (Kapangan).
Collaborating agencies include the Council for Health and Development (CHD); the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Agriculture (DA), Baguio General Hospital (BGH), and Saint Louis University (SLU).
Local interviewers and health workers helped fill out survey questionnaires and administered physical examinations. # Lyn V. Ramo for NORDIS