Poisons Centre advisory: Beware of the dangers of street pesticides in the WC | Western Cape Government


Poisons Centre advisory: Beware of the dangers of street pesticides in the WC

6 July 2023

The Poisons Information Helpline of the Western Cape (WC) has attended to more than 1000 calls regarding poisoning exposures to pesticides.

These pesticides are designed to target and eliminate various pests that can be harmful to human health such as mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, ants, mice, and rats. Most often, these pesticides are registered for agricultural purposes, not home use and sold illegally to households.  These pesticides are often poured into different containers (sachets), unlabelled and used inappropriately.

In South Africa, as in many other developing countries, people live in difficult and crowded areas. These areas are an ideal breeding ground for pests. People seek cheap and effective ways to deal with the problem. The conventional anticoagulant rodenticides require that an animal eat multiple doses of the bait over several days. Street pesticides, on the other hand, are fast working, cheap, easily accessible, effective, and very toxic.

Of the poisoning exposure calls attended during 2022, 49% were accidental and 47% intentional exposure. The rest were due to other causes such as malicious intent. 35% of the calls involved children under 12 years of age. Although most calls were associated with exposures to commercial pesticides, it is difficult to report on exactly what type of pesticides were involved as some are bought on the street as an unknown street pesticide. An example of such is “Halephirimi” (“you will never see the sunset”) that is highly toxic. Fifty-eight cases of severe pesticide poisoning were reported to the Helpline and 8 deaths during 2022, but it is estimated that this number could be much higher.

Ms Carine Marks, Director of the Tygerberg Poisons Information Centre advised the following, “If you suspect that someone has been poisoned by illegal pesticides, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention and take the person to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Fast medical care can make a significant difference. It is also vital that healthcare workers report the incident and inform the relevant authorities. Providing authorities with all the necessary details can help initiate an investigation and prevent further incidents.”

Furthermore, it is equally important for family and friends to gather all relevant  information. Collect any available information about the pesticides, such as the brand name, packaging, or any labels on the containers. If the product is unlabelled take it with to the healthcare facility for possible identification.

Ms Marks concluded, “Ensure that your family and friends avoid further exposure to the pesticide or any contaminated areas. Please cooperate with healthcare professionals and follow their instructions carefully. They will be able to provide specific advice based on the symptoms and circumstances of the poisoning. When the healthcare worker is unsure about the identification and management of the poisoned patient, they will contact the Poisons Information Helpline for further guidance.”

About the Poisons Information Helpline of the Western Cape

The Poisons Information Helpline is a 24-hour service for the public and health care workers, provided by the staff of the Poisons Information Centres at Red Cross Children’s Hospital and Tygerberg Hospital. The service provides help with poisonings caused by unidentified toxins and advice on managing poisoning by identified substances. The Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness remains committed to strengthening the prevention, diagnosis, and management of poisoning in both adults and children in the province.

Emergency Contact Numbers:

ALL EMERGENCIES: 112 (cell phone) or 10177 (landline)

Poisons Information Helpline: 0861 555 777