by Marie S. Neri, SunStar Daily
MANILA -- Pesticide in cassava sweets poisoned
more than 100 grade school students in Bohol, the Department of
Health (DOH) said Monday.
Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said the results of laboratory
examinations conducted by the University of the Philippines-Poison
Management and Control Center (UP-PMCC) showed that "carbamate"
poisoning killed 28 children and caused vomiting and diarrhea
spells in 77 others recuperating in three hospitals in Bohol.
Carbamates and organophosphates are two classes of insecticides
containing chemicals designed to kill insects by inhibiting a
key enzyme in their nervous system called cholinesterase, which
is also a component of the human nervous system.
"Based on the examination, the cause of death of children
was diarrhea and dehydration secondary to pesticide and also possibly
secondary to an infectious agent," Dayrit said.
While the DOH has already pinpointed pesticide poisoning as the
cause, Dayrit said there are other factors that might have aggravated
the situation and resulted in a high number of children getting
killed or ill.
"Chronic exposure to pesticides," which is present
in the environment in Mabini, Bohol, was noted, Dayrit said.
"The overall picture here is you have a highly contaminated
environment and pesticides and bacteria in the same place where
the food was prepared, halo-halo yung (there was a mix of) food
and pesticides, and these may have infectious agents," he
He said of the 49 grade school pupils tested, 82 percent of those
who ate a local snack food called "maruya" suffered
diarrhea while 62 percent of those who did not eat the same food
also got diarrhea.
The same statistical analysis also showed that 94 percent of
those who ate "maruya" suffered vomiting spells while
66 percent who did not eat "maruya" also vomited.
Seventy-nine percent of the victims suffered a headache as against
66 percent who did not eat "maruya" but still had a
headache. About 83 percent suffered abdominal pain compared to
57 percent who did not take "maruya" and still suffered
Dayrit said the health experts noted that abdominal pain was
"statistically significant" in the tests because 83
percent of the 49 students recuperating in hospitals suffered
He added the examination also showed the children tested had
low levels of cholinesterase, one of many important enzymes needed
for the proper functioning of the nervous system of humans.
Among the signs and symptoms of cholinesterase inhibition are:
tiredness, weakness, dizziness, nausea and blurred vision in mild
cases; headache, sweating, tearing, drooling, vomiting and twitching
in moderate cases; and abdominal cramps, diarrhea, muscular tremors,
staggering gait, slow heartbeat, abnormally low blood pressure
and breathing difficulty and possibly death in severe cases.
It was also discovered that the Bohol patients that were given
atropine, an antidote to pesticide poisoning, and activated charcoal
responded to the treatment and were rehydrated.
"They found some level of depression of cholinesterase and
because many of the patients responded to atropine, this is why
they were concluding that it is most likely pesticide," Dayrit
Food and blood samples taken last week from the victims in Bohol
showed cyanide poisoning was not the cause since the amount or
level of cyanide in the blood samples was not significant.
"Based on the conclusion, there is no evidence of cyanide
poisoning among the children who were brought to the hospital,"
Dayrit said blood samples collected from the victims showed the
range of the cyanide content was from 0 to 0.2 milligrams per
liter, which is not enough to conclude there was cyanide poisoning
since you need at least 0.5 milligrams per liter before you could
attribute it to cyanide.
"If you will compare the cyanide in the cassava it will
not give you a very rapid onset or that fast to produce symptoms,"
said Dr. Irma Makalinao, one of the UP toxicologists sent to Bohol.
She also said the body has enzymes that can equalize the effect
Asked if the DOH will recommend the filing of charges against
the vendors of the contaminated snack food, Dayrit said it is
not in their jurisdiction to do so.
"It's the medico-legal experts who would have to take over
and determine the culpability of the vendor," Dayrit said.
Dayrit said they are coordinating with the Philippine Fertilizer
and Pesticide Authority as well as the Department of Education
to inform the public on the dangers of pesticide use.
It was learned that carbamate was present not only in agricultural
pesticides but also in insecticides commonly used in households.