The Western Cape poison information helpline says people’s ignorance about the seriousness of pesticides can put many lives in danger in this province.
The helpline received more than 1,000 calls last year about people exposed to illegal pesticides.
The Western Cape Department of Health says that of the calls received, 49% were due to accidental exposure, 47% due to intentional exposure, and the rest due to malicious exposure.
A third of the calls came from children aged 12 and under.
A total of 58 of the calls were serious cases of poisoning, and eight people died last year after being exposed to pesticides. The actual death rate may be much higher.
“Although most of the calls are from people exposed to commercial pesticides, it is difficult to determine what type of pesticides the rest were exposed to as some of the pesticides are sold on the street as an unknown street pesticide,” says the department.
Pesticides are made to target various pests that can be harmful to human health, such as mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, ants, mice and rats. However, these pesticides are mostly used for agricultural purposes, and are not for domestic use.
When the pesticides do end up in people’s hands, they are often stored in different containers that are unmarked and not suitable for storing the type of poison.
“People are looking for cheap and effective ways to manage pests. Because the common rodenticides require the animal to take multiple doses over several days, they are not as effective or cheap as pesticides bought on the street. That makes it extremely dangerous.”
How to make
Should it happen that you or one of your loved ones is exposed to an illegal pesticide, Carine Marks, director of the Tygerberg Poison Information Centre, says that people should do the following:
- Take the person to the nearest hospital as soon as possible and notify the relevant authorities of the incident.
“Quick medical care can make a significant difference,” she says.
“It is also essential that healthcare workers report the incident and inform the relevant authorities. Providing authorities with all the necessary details can help start an investigation and prevent further incidents.”
- Collect any available information about the pesticides, such as the brand name, packaging or any labels on the containers.
- Make sure your family and friends avoid further exposure to the pesticide or any contaminated areas.
- Cooperate with healthcare professionals and follow their instructions carefully. They will be able to give specific advice based on the symptoms and circumstances of the poisoning.