19 November, 2018

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Is Sri Lanka A ‘Killing Field’ Full Of Toxins Where People Die Of Chronic Disease?

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana

The claim that Sri Lankan soils and its agricultural produce are full of toxins, and that it is a “killing field” is an attractive slogan for those foreign agents who compete with Sri Lanka’s agricultural products. It is also a useful cry for those who want to destroy the rural landscape and replace it by an urban Megalopolis. Tea, rice and most leafy vegetables and grains accumulate toxins from the soil during the plant’s period of growth, and the toxin accumulation in the rice grains or tea leaves, can be as much as a hundred times larger than in the soil. The straw and leaves can also have high toxin levels and using such matter for composting also becomes problematic, if we indeed have “killing fields” full of toxins. Fortunately, we don’t have such “killing fields”.

Some of our own  writers have unwittingly embraced the popular view of a toxin-filled “killing field”, without comparing the toxicity data for Sri Lanka with data for other countries like UK, Belgium, Malta, New Zealand, or India etc, before making a strong pronouncement condemning Sri Lanka. In 2013 Dr. Asoka Bandarage wrote a blog to Huffington Post reflecting the extreme views popular with the public, also articulated by Venerable Ratana and after 2015 by the Presidential Secretariat.  They launched the “Toxin-free Nation” slogan and wrought havoc with the agricultural sector of the country. More recently, Dr. Amarasiri de Silva, an anthropologist now based in the USA also wrote similar articles, but here invoking the “authority” of a young Swedish student studying the Veddas (“Vanniye Aeththo”), to claim that Sri Lanka is awash with toxins. Drs. Ashly de Vos and Prassana Cooray have expressed similar, but more measured sentiments in the Island newspaper. Nothing is more far from reality.

The X-ray Radiograph given in Dr. Bandarage’s 2013 blog has little to do with Kidney disease and seems to be an investigatory pyelogram. Perhaps it was not Dr. Bandarage, but Huff Post who placed a file photo without any thought, but designed to emphasize the alleged “killing fields” aspect. Here is the link to Dr. Bandagae’s 2013 article.

Cadmium is probably the most dangerous heavy-metal toxin that may be present in the soil, water, diet, tobacco etc. Below are some figures from advanced countries for the amount of cadmium found in the soil, and for Sri Lankan soils.

(Data from FAO soil bulletin 65, the Wolfson British Geochemical map, and other sources.)

  • location Cd in mg/Kg of soil                                                                          
  • Shipham, (in Somerset) UK 9 -360 mg/kg
  • UK average about    1
  • Belgium av. 3.5
  • Malta av. 2.5
  • Sri Lanka av. less than 0.05 mg/kg

These countries have acquired a lot of pollution from 200 years of industry, mining, use of coal, and since the 20th century, use of gasoline (petrol) and diesel. The pollution has NOT come from agrochemicals. When scientists point out these facts, they are accused of defending the agrochemical companies and scientists are labeled “paid agents of agri-business”. Some academic scientists may be consultants to agrochemical companies who may ask them to solve problems that the company scientists do not want to engage in. Then the scientist is paid for the job he/she does. For instance, Monsanto or Bayer may consult a scientist’s views to reduce and evaluate the toxicity of a new product line. However, such companies have their own well equipped in-house research units far excelling university installations. If a “contract” is given to an academic institution, then it is usually to study some rather fundamental aspect with no short-term or market implications. These contracts do not in most cases vitiate what that scientist may write in the peer-reviewed literature. Furthermore, full disclosure of “conflict of interest” is the norm, unlike with NGO’s who are answerable to none.

Let us look at the data instead of hurling accusations. The use of agrochemicals and disease ANTI-CORRELATE with each other as seen from the following comparison.

  • Country                                              Use of Agrochemicals per annum
  • El Savador (has CKDu)                     71 kg/hectare
  • Sri Lanka                                             250 kg/hectare (mostly in the Tea estates)
  • NCP in Sri Lanka (CKDu)                 50-100 kg/hectare per year
  • New Zealand (no CKDu)                   1200 kg/hectare
  • Qatar (no CKDu)                                 11,000 kg/hectare

Significant progress has occurred in understanding the cause of CKDu, even in the face of the constant vilification that scientists and doctors have had to face from the public, led by environmental advocacy groups espousing ideology-based explanations of the disease unsupported by any research. The book “Wakugadu Hatana”, written by Dr. Jayasumana, and carrying a forward by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera is an example of how such advocacy groups unfairly  accuse leading researchers of being in the “pocket of agrochemical companies”, with no evidence to support such claims.

Scientists who apply for research grants without implicating agrochemicals allegedly get no grant money in the prevailing ethos of Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, a tentative mainstream scientific consensus has  emerged from the multi-disciplinary studies undertaken by CERTKID, a joint effort including Peradeniya University, the Kandy Hospital and other scientists.

Dr. Tilak Abesekera, a leading Nephrologist of the Kandy Hospital and Peradeniya University presented  the current scientific view on chronic kidney disease in the Daily News in early 2017. That was written prior to an  important study   on CKDu published  in the renowned journal Nature by Dr. Wasana et al. Nevertheless Dr. Abesekera’s article  gives the right picture.

The mainstream view of the cause of CKDu in Sri Lanka is that those who regularly consume water from wells contaminated with fluoride (and having hard water) contract CKDu.  This was proved by feeding such water to laboratory mice. A more general perspective on the matter, taken in the context of the Kangaroo Court held in the Hague by the so-called “citizen-led” trial, the banning of glyphosate etc., may be read in Dr. Jayasumana and Ven. Ratana formed the “Sri Lankan delegation” at this Gilbertian Nanki-Poo trial, to implicate glyphosate for CKDu even though 97% of the CKDu patients have no significant glyphosate found in their biopsies.

CKDu can be prevented by providing clean drinking water to the affected villages. Even in the affected villages, those who drink water from tanks, agricultural canals etc., do NOT contract the disease. The affected people live away from the irrigation water and use their own wells in the higher ground. Dr. Manthrithileke et al of the International Water Board showed (using tracer isotopes) that these suspicious wells were isolated from the agricultural water table. The endangered parts of the villages are not too far from the irrigation canals water can be piped in from the canals. Many of these house holds now collect rainwater from their roofs using large tanks that store the monsoon water. This program was began by many concerned individuals including the late Mr. Ranjith Mulleriyawa who lived among the people and focused on the water problem of the affected parts of the villages. Unfortunately, instead of such simple solutions, the Government and some influential officials pushed the purchasing of expensive “Reverse-Osmosis” (RO) plants from the USA etc.. They sell bottled water to poor farmers at as much as Rs 2-3 a bottle! Such plants may have been an understandable initial knee-jerk solution in the face of public fear mongering (“killing fields”), but it is no longer justified today. Furthermore, RO plants are a constant drain on foreign exchange as the necessary filters and electronic parts etc., have to be imported, and the machines themselves will have to be replaced in about 5 or 6 years.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    Is Tennessee a killing field with toxic chemicals too?

  • 2
    1

    When Sri Lankan people wash clothes and allow the water to run through drains, the chemicals from the Detergent are absorbed into the earth and thereafter comes into contact with water streams.

    When Sri Lankan buggers wash their newly acquired vehicles, the cheap Toyotas and the Hondos the Car wash chemicals are allowed to run through drains rather than first treating that water and removing the chemicals. Again they come in contact with the waterways.

    Sri Lankans are very good at throwing Torch Batteries and wristwatch batteries onto the garbage. Once at landfill, the Mercury and Lead from the Batteries are slowly released onto the soil. After rainfall, the chemicals and then seeped underground and come in contact with waterways.

    There are countless other ways contamination can occur. Humans are the curse of this planet. All other animals combined doesn’t cause this much destruction.

    • 5
      1

      Yes, but this author is telling is that the main source of pollution comes from industry, mining coal usage etc, and not from chemical agriculture.
      Since Sri Lanka did not get industrialized as the west did, the message is that OUR SOILS ARE LESS POLLUTED than, say some european country like Belgium or US.
      So there is no point in blaming fertilizers and pesticides. They can be safely used.
      Well, that is refreshing to hear.

  • 2
    3

    President, PM and the parliament are part of the scam. They say Sri lanka is very educated. but, they can not do anything if foreign consultants are not hired, foreign companies are not involved. 50 years ago, Sri lanka had 100% full organic Agriculture. they introduced fertilizer, pesticides and now farmers die drinking polluted water. Now they are talking about organic agriculture evenwhen New york residents are buying into their own garden plots which do not have fertilizer or pesticides.
    Motor vehicles are imported fossil fuel are imported and they build more roads to accomodate those. So, cancer is flourishing. Everybody know that the USA has very high manufacturing costs. and they can not export anything except expensive items such as high computers, weapons, air planes etc., Sri lanka is buying Rail – car compartments for railway from uSA. All commis and corruption.
    It is the govt and the bureaucrats are to blame.
    that is the Sri lankan environmenrt, food and air.
    It is the same with Human mind and activities. All corrupt.
    Read and see there is a section buddhist environmental Psychology all taken together what buddha talked about how our inner environment pollute the outer and the whole community.

  • 0
    2

    Your Statistics about 250 KG agrochemicals per hectare and even 1200 in NZ must be very wrong. What are you talking. these are toxins and doe snot need in that weights. find out what Canada is using. They use integrated pest management and it could not be this high. where do you get these figures.

    • 4
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      It is good to read Jim Softy who once said that he feeds cows with urea! He had forgoten cows eat grass? But now he wants organic food. Organic does not use urea, and so you can only grow a fraction of the food neded by the earth’s current population if you use only organiv. The Rich will comandeer the earth for themselves!

      Jimsofty asks, where the statistics are from. The article itself says that they are world bank figures. I checked them and they are OK but the author had rounded them off a bit.

      • 0
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        Dumb Edward: you are just writing but you di dnot check what I wrote in the web. Instead you chose to be an idiot. that is with regard to Cows eating Urea.
        Generally, Agrochemicals are, my understandingpesticides. I am not clear whether he has added fertilizer too. Otherwise, only if you worked in agricutural fiels you know 250 Kg/ha, 1200 Kg/ha are considerably large figures. that can sterilize the fields, I think. Edward. It looks very much you are talking like a brain dead intellectual.

  • 2
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    Is Sri Lanka………Full Of Toxins………?
    The truth is up for sale. A “No” answer can be bought for a price!
    .
    This question has reached the national arena stage but yet none of the major political parties pay attention. Are we signing our future generation to the devil in exchange for votes?

    • 0
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      Surely the truth is NOT up for sale. You can find out if the soil or water is polluted by chemical analysis. That has nothing to do with politics. This author is saying that Sri Lanka, having escaped industrialization, is NOT polluted at least by agriculture.
      Modern agriculture has successfully increased life expectancy and mostly eliminated hunger, and so cutting back modern agriculture and going back to “Organic” simlpy because it is fashionable or “natural” is madness.

      That we are less polluted than Europe is great. How do we prevent urban sprawl and increased human encrochment which is the real cause of pollution.?

  • 4
    2

    Chandre keeps beating his by now well-worn drum. Chandre keeps denying that Sri Lanka has a toxicological problem. Chandre keeps denying that Sri Lankan farmers use lots of agrochemicals and chemical fertilisers. Chandre keeps harping about the mysterious something in ground or well water which is killing people by the thousand in our rice bowl, the Rajarata, but seems reluctant to name it. Why?

    Chandre however, accepts that cadmium, a heavy metal, is highly toxic.

    What Chandre has not told us is that (i) cadmium is found as a trace impurity in phosphate fertilisers, especially the processed form, TSP, (ii) that standards are not imposed on cadmium content in imported fertiliser, (iii) that farmers are inclined to over-use TSP, (iv) that cadmium is known internationally as causing kidney disease, (v) that Sri Lankan farmers consume a heavy load of rice, even eating it three times a day; (vi) that a major study done by the WHO in 2010-12 in conjunction with the Health Ministry found large amounts of cadmium in patients with CKDu.

    Instead, Chandre talks senselessly about fluoride being found in rats, and thus concluding that fluoride is the cause of CKDu and not cadmium.

    This is one pathetic academic. His denials ring seriously hollow.

    • 3
      1

      Hi Justin
      I was at the COSTI seminar given by Chandre about an year ago in Colombo and he answered almost all your questions. The well worn drum is that fertilizers cause this illness. But Chandre gives a NEW VIEW that chronic illness ANTIcorrelates with fertilzer use globally, or even inside Sri lanks. No one in Deniyaya or Nuwar Eliya who use much more Fert than the paddy farmer in the NCP gets CKDu. If fertilizers cause chronic CKD , then almost every one in rural sri lanka, and NOT just NCP should get it. Even in the NCP you find adjacent farmer villages, where one has CKDu while the neighbour village, which use as much fertilizer, is free of CKDu. Explain that!
      The amount of Cd added through Fert is negligible compared to what is there geologicaly, and
      even that is very small compared to, say, Belgium.
      An important point made by Dr. Chandre is that there are 1000 times as much Zn atoms for every Cd atom and that Zn counters the effectt of Cd toxicity. But, even without that, the amount of Cd present is too small to exceed the threshold beyond which Cd becomes toxic. That is, a substance becomes toxic only if the amount ingested exceeds a certain dose, just as with medicines. Too bad he did not discuss the counter effect of Zn here.

      • 0
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        It’s nice of you to stand up for Chandre, but before you cheer too loudly, please get a sense of the topography of Nuwara Eliya (hills=slopes=run off) vs NCP. Then, understand how water from the hills is channeled to NCP via Mahaweli Diversion scheme, bringing fertilizer run off to wevas and reservoirs there. This is why NCP dwellers get hit the hardest, as they (farmers) use fertilizer in abundance, and is why Deniyaya, Jaffna and other regions escape.

        It is necessary to follow up on what is known, that is, in addition to the two main points above, cadmium is found in TSP, cadmium is WELL known to cause kidney disease, and people with CKD who are not diabetic or have HBP show cadmium in fluids and biopsies.

        I cannot say this more forcefully: Given what we know about the profligate use of fertilizer, the well known presence of cadmium in TSP (and other fertilizers), the association of cadmium with kidney disease, the link to cadmium MUST be studied exhaustively before ANYONE can dismiss its association with CKDu.

        • 0
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          Hi Justin,
          What you say about the Mahaweli bringing toxins flowing down to the NCP is what a lot of people including Dr. Chandre said at first. But most people have realized it to be wrong because (1) the people who drink the river water or agricultural water or from Tanks DONT get sick (2)the large scale study you mentioned (WHO study) analyzed 250 such water samples of river and wewa and other water sampals and showed that there were negligible amounts of heavy metal toxins, i.e., well below the danger threshold. There were also independent studies more recently all showing that. The water board also did a study and I was also involved jn that.

    • 3
      1

      Justin says, ” Chandre talks senselessly about fluoride being found in rats”.
      You must be kidding..
      Chandre has referred to an article in the renowned journal NATURE.
      Chandre is NOT an author and he has not given the reference. I know some of the authors very well, and will give you the reference for you to see what is sensible or not.

      Read it, and learn how Kidney disease is caused by fluoride ions found naturally in hard water of household wells used by these rural farmers.
      Nature Scientific Reports, 2017, doi: 10.1038/srep42516

      The WHO 2012-2013 study you refer to showed that that there is Cd, lead etc in the blood of sick people. This is exactly what you expect once your kidney is impaired by the fluoride. The impaired kidney cannot flush out minute amounts of toxins and so they accumulate in the body to measurable amounts.

      • 1
        3

        I Hantana Man: I think what you say is wrong. Fluoride was common in dry zone ground water for so long. What only happens is discolouration of teeth. I never heard kidney failures. If you are telling the truth, you should have given the reference. I am telling what I observed. It should be the other ions associated with the Fluoride ions that cause kidney failures because FLuoride should be better than chloride in dissolving ionic compounds,

        • 0
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          Indeed, as Jimsofty says, one of the well established effects of fluoride is discolouring teeth and finally fluorosis. In fact every CKDu patient shows those symptoms. In addition, they get renal damage if the fluoride happens to be associated with other salty stuff found in these house-hold wells which cause the illness. This fact was proved by a group from the IFS at Hantana, and independantly by the Vet. Dept of Peradeniya university. Scientists in other countries have also evidence for kidney damage from fluoride acting synergistically with other ions. It is a long term effect that hits people who regularly consume hard water containing fluoride. If people drink water from agricultural canals or fromWewa there is no problem. . It is the stagnant well water that causes the problem.
          .
          Just google nephrotoxicity of fluoride and you should get enough leads. Or else look up the NATURE article for which I already gave the DOI link.

          • 1
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            Aiyo Hantana man alias Oilyperuma, don’t tell lies men – its a shame for a retired professor like you to spread untruths like this and prolong the uncertainty of this disease. Tell us and the poor ignorant peasant farmers where on earth fluoride and ‘salty stuff’ found in household wells has been proven to cause ‘the illness’ (assuming you refer to CKDu)? Also, what is the research published by IFS on this, and why is the Vet Dept trying to creep in to matters of human health? Chikay, chikay.

            And you look to support from Jimbo Softy, of all people? What does he know about this? More shame on you for this Oily.

  • 0
    1

    However, the suicide disease is definitely caused by Agro. Hope Sri Lanka will never come to that.

  • 5
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    Hello Chandre, The agenda you are highlighting now is clear.Your affection for your motherland is also clear.But the Bond signed by you in the early 1970s with Sri Jayawardenapura University remains unpaid upto now.Only you can explain this paradox ,isn’t it Chandre?

  • 0
    0

    So much for the anti Halal ,everyone fell for it ,it was only to take it from a set of group in monopoly at the expense of the non suspecting Muslims by the Masterminds all shouting anti halal ,so it can be taken over whole sale to live on it forever.
    Today a religious obligation to dietary HAS become a money minting Company belonging and managed by proxies of the owners not even Muslins .tell me about it ,This Beloved country most politician ,so-called people of piety and the rich who gets money from the skies are going to keep a Global market reaching this year USD$,1.8 Trillion. Are going to let go such essy cash .Try telling to the birds . Muslims are paying through their nose and the very people who shouted anti Halal are filling their pockets . the people who are of other religion are also paying ,but the proportion is negligible .

  • 0
    0

    A well set conspiracy .kill the poor in the village by stressing Halal Is in human and feed them .toxic Vegetable to get rid or reduce the burden of uplifting the poor who are larger in population
    And milk the Muslim goats., Good strategy .and keep sending more innocent poor maids to bring in money at the cost of their children and family and suffering even ending up dead .what kind of people have become ? To be fed to the wolves in sheep cloathings ,even now we do not want to unite for the sake of our children and country.

  • 0
    0

    .Muslims ,just go straight to the simple poor Butcher and buy your Chicken ,fresh and encourage them and advice them. to keep their premises clean by using a high pressure washing machine and other non toxic odour remover ,ask them to nicely tile the shop like the one in Mahabage . soon they will be able to sell you for lesser price when their sales go up. Encourage them to approach commercial poultry farm to sell them live chicken caged humanly .and ask all Muslim restaurants serving Chicken to get the butcher to create a symbol to display in their restaurants and .let the so called halal label company supply to the big hotels and export. No one is done injustice and the middle class and poor have an slternstive

  • 0
    0

    Unfortunately no hope for vegetables for the momoment , try washing with coconut water for now before cocking. And do not touch palm oil .period… .buy any oil not palm oil,,,.if you can afford coconut oil ,, its the best aslong as you can guarantee it is not mixed with palm oil.Malaysia is in the process of uprooting all palm trees .FYI.

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