- At least 24 children died in a remote Andean village
after eating a government-donated breakfast contaminated with the organophosphate
insecticide parathion. Another 20 children were poisoned and required medical
- The breakfast was served to schoolchildren between the
ages of three and fourteen in the village of Tauccamarca, province of Cusco,
on Friday, October 22. The milk substitute based on wheat, corn, soy and
barley and packets of cookies were provided by the National Fund for Social
Development and Compensation (FONCODES), as part of a government-sponsored
nutrition program. The wife of the school's only teacher prepared the meal
with the help of a 14-year-old student.
- Children began vomiting and convulsing within a half
hour of eating the contaminated food. "The kids were screaming, vomiting
and grabbing their bellies. Some were dead, others were writhing on the
grass and still more were on the school patio. We had no idea what to do,"
a village woman said, according to media sources. Children collapsed outside
the school, on the dirt roads leading to their homes, and in the doorways
of their parents' houses.
- Healthy children attempted to lead sick children to their
homes but many died along the way. Some villagers were able to carry their
children to the town of Huasac, a 1 1/2 hour walk from Tauccamarca, where
they could be evacuated to a hospital in the city of Cusco, several hours
away. Parents of the victims said that if there were a road to their village,
or if they had medical services there, some of the children might have
- The Minister of Health and other government officials
visited the village but did not claim responsibility for the disaster.
President Alberto Fujimori made no comment. By the time national officials
arrived on the scene, local police had confiscated the remainder of the
government-provided food and it was not available for testing.
- The government has offered several possible explanations
for the event. Initially officials suggested that the milk substitute had
been prepared in containers previously used for pesticides. Later the Minister
of Health said that a local resident might have mixed some of the milk
substitute with insecticide with the intention of poisoning a dog. Government
officials denied the possibility that the company providing the food for
FONCODES programs might be responsible for the contamination. Meanwhile,
the schoolteacher and his wife were arrested and accused of criminal negligence.
- Children in other parts of the country have also suffered
symptoms of poisoning after eating government-donated food, but all have
- In response to this tragedy, the Red de Acción
en Alternativas al uso de Agroquímicos (RAAA -- PAN Latin America)
is calling for the immediate prohibition of highly toxic pesticides classified
by the World Health Organization as 1a (extremely hazardous) and 1b (highly
- RAAA is calling on the government to recognize that it
is impossible to guarantee the safety of highly toxic pesticides such as
organophosphates. Many potential pesticide users in Peru are illiterate
and have no way to learn about the risks associated with pesticides. Many
villagers speak only their native language of Quechua, and do not know
Spanish. In addition, many rural areas have no health care centers to treat
victims of pesticide poisonings. Highly toxic pesticides should not be
distributed in areas where the population has no protection against the
risks associated with their use.
- RAAA is asking the Ministry of Health to implement a
program of quality monitoring to ensure that government-donated food is
not contaminated with toxic substances. The Ministries of Health and of
Agriculture should also develop a program to track pesticide poisonings
throughout the country. As part of this program, doctors and nurses should
receive training in the symptoms and treatment of pesticide poisonings.
Finally, RAAA is calling on the Peruvian government to enforce its existing
pesticide laws and to implement laws promoting safer alternatives.
- RAAA requests that concerned groups and individuals support
the campaign to eliminate these toxic pesticides by faxing letters as soon
as possible to the following addresses:
- Ingeniero Belisario de la Casa Piedra Ministro de Agricultura
Fax (511) 431 0109 Señor Luis Campo Baca Comisión de Medio
Ambiente y Amazonía Congreso de la República Fax (511) 428
- Please also fax or email a copy of your letter to RAAA.
- Sources: RAAA press release, October 23, 1999; RAAA communications
to Minister of Health and others, October 24, 1999; Juan Paliza, "Peru
Probes Child Food-Poisoning Deaths," Reuters October 24, 1999; "Tainted
Milk Kills 28 Peruvian Kids," Associated Press October 23, 1999; La
República October 24-27, 1999
- Contacts: Luis Gomero, Red de Acción en Plaguicidas
y sus Alternativas para America Latina (RAPAL), Apartado Postal 11-0581,
Lima, Peru, phone (51-1) 425 7955; fax (51-1) 337 5170; email email@example.com;
- Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) 49 Powell
St., Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94102 USA Phone: (415) 981-1771 Fax:
(415) 981-1991 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: http://www.panna.org