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Panel addresses arsenic concerns

Scientists say they see link between arsenic and rare kidney ailments reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

July 11, 2011

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Christians and Buddhists joined forces with farmers to highlight the dangers posed by arsenic poisoning and to promote organic farming. A panel of experts addressed a discussion among religious and area farmers about the deadly poison, which has been blamed for the death of more than 20,000 farmers in the past two decades. “We have found that arsenic poisoning is the cause of a rare kidney disease found in the north central province,” said Dr. Channa Sudath Jayasumana, a member of the medical faculty of Rajarata University. “According to our research, we found arsenic in soil, rice and water.” The panel discussion was organized by the National Movement Against Poison at Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute in Columbo last week. More than 300 people including farmers, nuns, priests, Buddhist monks, members of research groups, NGOs and journalists participated in the discussion. Dr. Jayasumana said that some experts say arsenic is contained in chemicals that farmers use to cultivate their crops. “The arsenic level in fertilizer should be 2 milligrams per kilogram. But we found more than that in fertilizer used in Sri Lanka – up to between 10 and 30 milligrams per kilogram,” he said. “The government does not allow the export of any kind of pesticides containing arsenic, but we found the presence of arsenic in pesticides used for paddy.” Dr. Jayasumana said water in the area also contains high levels of calcium arsenic toxins, which directly affect the kidneys. “We have been unable to find this kind of water hardness in other parts of the country. That’s why there are so many patients with this rare kidney ailment here. We should remember that high levels of arsenic in our water will cause cancer.” Priyantha Ratnayaka, 39, a farmer from Dehiattakandiya, said arsenic is not found in rice produced through organic methods of cultivation. “It is true that organic farming methods are hard. But we should follow them to protect the health of our nation,” said Ratnayake, a member of a group of farmers trained by the Oblate priest-run Center for Society and Relgion. Chandralatha Silva, project officer of the environment and ecology unit at CSR, said more than 35 Buddhist and Christian farmers in the province cultivate rice organically. A six-month study by a group of scientists from the universities of Kelaniya and Rajarata has found evidence of lethal levels of arsenic in the agrochemicals used by farmers in Sri Lanka.

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