26 children die after ingesting cereal laced with insecticide

Updated 12:25 AM ET October 24, 1999
     By Juan Paliza
     CUSCO, Peru (Reuters) - Peruvian authorities began investigating Saturday how at least 26 schoolchildren, some as young as four, died in a remote Andean village after eating breakfast cereal apparently contaminated by insecticide.

     Doctors at a hospital in the historic town of Cusco were fighting to save 20 more children who collapsed after consuming cookies and cereal mixed with milk at school Friday. Two of the children were in serious condition, the hospital said. While the official toll was 26, the school's director and villagers told Reuters by telephone they knew of about four more deaths -- some of whom died as they walked home.

     Within half an hour of a communal breakfast for about 60 students aged up to 14 in the village of Huasac, children started retching with stomach cramps and collapsing around the school, witnesses said. "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 sobbing village woman said in her native Qechua language. "About 20 minutes after eating the breakfast, the children started convulsing, holding their stomachs and writhing around with pain," school director Isaac Villena said.

     In the chaos -- the worst tragedy involving children in Peru for years  -- those still healthy tried to lead ill pupils to their mud-brick homes but some died on the way, villagers said.  Local police and doctors, who found traces of insecticide in victims' stomachs, said they suspected the food was contaminated by being prepared in containers previously used to  mix insecticide for fumigating crops. President Alberto Fujimori sent a ministerial-level commission to Cusco to investigate how the children came to eat "food apparently mixed with a fatal insecticide," according to a Government Palace statement.

     The breakfast of cereal, milk and cookies was government-donated and in part prepared by the children themselves.  "Some children told me they noticed a strange taste in the breakfast," Holguer Lovon, director of the Cusco hospital, said.  Doctors said they expected more ill children to arrive Saturday from the remote Paucartambo area around Huasac, some hours by rough road from Cusco.

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10/30/2001 UPDATE:

PRESS RELEASE 30 October 2001

Legal Action Filed Against Bayer in the Pesticide Poisoning Deaths of 24 Children in the Peruvian Andes Lima, Peru -- On Monday October 22, 2001, two years to the day after 24 children in the remote Andean village of Tauccamarca were killed and 18 more severely poisoned when they drank a powdered milk substitute that had been contaminated with the pesticide methyl parathion, their families brought suit against the product's principle importer and manufacturer, the agrochemical company Bayer.

Methyl parathion is classified as Ia, or "extremely hazardous" and acutely toxic product by the World Health Organization, and is responsible for a disproportionately large share of pesticide poisonings in Latin America.

Bayer widely promoted its methyl parathion formulation, known as "Folidol", throughout Peru, without alerting users as to the product's grave risks to human health and the environment. The pesticide was marketed specifically for use in Andean crops that are cultivated mostly by small farmers, the vast majority of whom are are illiterate Quechua speakers. Nonetheless, Bayer packaged Folidol, a white powder that resembles powdered milk and has no strong chemical odor, in small plastic bags that provide no protection to users and give no indication of the danger of the product within. The bags are labeled in Spanish only, and carry drawings of healthy carrots and potatoes but no pictograms indicating danger or toxicity.

The lawsuit asserts that the agrochemical companies who imported and sold the product in Peru should have taken steps to prevent the foreseeable misuse of this extremely toxic product, given the severe health risks presented by methyl parathion and the well known socio-economic conditions in the Peruvian countryside.

The suit also named the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture for failure to enforce Peruvian pesticide regulations. Methyl parathion was registered as a "restricted use" pesticide in Peru, which can only be legally sold with a technical prescription issued by an agronomist licensed by the Minister of Agriculture, nonetheless uncontrolled sales of parathion and other pesticides in the countryside is the norm.

The spokesperson for the family members of the deceased children emphasized his hopes that their legal action would send a message to the agrochemical industry, so that they would not continue to sell unreasonably dangerous pesticides in the Peruvian countryside, and that the Peruvian courts would support justice for all the children of Tauccamarca.


The lawsuit was filed by Erika Rosenthal for RAPAL, who can be contacted at <erosenthal@igc.org For more information contact Barbara Dinham, Director at PAN UK, Email barbaradinham@pan-uk.org

 Pesticide Information Updates are provided free of charge by the Pesticide Action Network UK. You can join this list by signing on at the following page: www.pan-uk.org/piuform.htm


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