Today you are going to hear a sad story about a village where children were poisoned by pesticides.
This story is different from many stories about pesticide poisoning. It is different because these children were poisoned before they were born. They were poisoned while they were still in their mothers’ bodies. And though it’s a sad story, we can learn some valuable lessons from it.
In the southwestern part of Hungary, a country in central Europe, there is a small village called Rinya. In the countryside around Rinya, there are several large fish farms. On these farms two different kinds of fish – carp and catfish – are raised in large ponds, then sold outside the village.
On the fish farms, there are pest problems. Tiny creatures called parasites attack the fish, and make them sick or unacceptable for eating. Just as cows and pigs can be harmed by ticks, fish can be harmed by tiny parasites which feed on their flesh.
Several years ago, the farm managers tried a different way to kill the parasites. They took the fish out of the ponds and dipped them in a pesticide solution for five to ten minutes. Then they returned the fish to the ponds. At first, the treatment seemed successful. The parasites were killed. But the fish began to act strangely. After they were treated with pesticides, the fish didn’t move at all, but stayed on the surface of the water for hours and sometimes days.
The people in the village were not told about this new method. Although fishing from the ponds was not allowed, many of the villagers stored and ate the fish. After all, picking motionless fish off the surface of the water was much easier than using a net or fishing rod.
Life went on as usual in the village for the next year or so. But then something strange happened. Fifteen children were born in Rinya in 1989 and 1990. Eleven of these children had serious birth defects. Some children were born with heart and lung problems. Others had mental and physical problems.
There was something terribly wrong in Rinya. The village doctor contacted the government about the children, and a team of doctors came to investigate. They examined all the possible sources of pollution – the air, the water, and the soil. Only one possible source of pollution was found – the chemicals used in the fish farming ponds. All the mothers with sick children had eaten fish early in their pregnancy, while the pesticide solution was being used. The scientists concluded that the pesticides in the fish had probably caused the birth defects.
This story shows that pesticides can harm children even before they are born. Though it’s a sad story, we can learn from it.
There are over two dozen pesticides that may cause human birth defects. So, it’s especially important for pregnant women to stay away from areas where pesticides are used. Pregnant women should not even wash clothes that have been in contact with pesticides.
Always think carefully before you use pesticides. Do not use pesticides unless there are no alternatives.
If you must use them, make sure that you understand and follow all safety precautions. If you don’t know how to use pesticides safely, get help from someone who does. Pesticides might save your crops, but hurt your unborn children.
Written by: Vijay Cuddeford, writer/researcher, DCFRN.
Reviewed by: Dr. Andrew E. Czeizel, National Institute of Hygiene, Budapest, Hungary.
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