An opposition member of parliament, Dr Harsha De Silva raised the issue of “contaminated” fertilizer stocks in the House. News reports and social media state that fertilizers “Laced with Unsafe Levels” of Lead and Cadmium have been released in Sri Lanka. Exposure to even small amounts of these heavy metals over time, mainly through the food chain, or by smoking, causes kidney, liver, bone and neurological damage in humans, leading to a variety of chronic diseases.
According to the news reports “The SLSI had suspended the release of the TSP consignment after it found that Lead and Cadmium in the imported fertilizer were higher than the maximum levels for toxic elements based on Sri Lanka standards specifications……However, following a meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, Director Senaratne authorized the release of the consignment into the market, on a strictly conditional basis, considering the food security of the country”.
Anyone reading the news would be justifiably alarmed, as both cadmium and lead are toxic substances that should not get into the food chain, even in small concentrations. However, we point out here that the fault is not in the imported fertilizer, but in the ridiculous standards stipulated by those who wrote Sri Lanka’s standards for heavy metal residues in fertilizers. This is a topic that I have addressed in newspaper articles as well as in technical studies [e.g., Dharma-wardana, Environmental Geochemistry and Health volume 40, pages 2739–2759 (2018) ].
This report must be taken in the backdrop of news about toxins in coconut oil, as well as the attempt of a TV-media host to make the SL Standards Institute (SLSI) Director Dr. Senaratne to reveal names of companies alleged to have imported contaminated coconut oil. She quite correctly stood her ground and declined to reveal names and make public accusations.
The Director of a scientific laboratory is not mandated to act as a public prosecutor. However, her answer showed that scientists are not media savvy and may give totally inappropriate answers that media outlets seek to create media hype. The fact that media hosts should try to destroy due process, and create “instant exposés” in an inappropriate manner, show the extent of the decline in public standards of justice and fair play in the country.
However, let us use this opportunity to educate ourselves regarding toxic substances in general, and heavy metals in fertilizers, in particular. Due to lack of space, here we examine only the case of cadmium, whose Sri Lankan standards are stated in SLS-812-standard-1988, amended and re-approved in 2008. This says that a kilo of TPS fertilizer cannot contain more than 5 mg of cadmium (or 10.9 mg per kg of P2O5). This is an absurd specification, which is impossibly LOW, such that there are very few mineral sources that conform to such a specification.
Let us look at this in comparison with the standards required by other countries for cadmium in fertilizer.
Each country, and sometimes each state or province of a country, sets its standards based on the naturally existing cadmium levels in its soil. Most parts of the UK have very high cadmium levels in its soil, and so inputs of Cd via fertilizers make little difference. Some parts of Western Europe (e.g, Brittany, in France, or parts of Holland) have low natural levels, while Belgium is as contaminated as the UK. So the European Union, as a whole, hopes to gradually tighten its standards and move to 20 mg/kg by 2040. But Sri Lanka has already, in 1988 itself, set its Cd limit at the impossibly low value of 5 mg/kg !
Was this very low limit set already in 1988 so as to disallow every imported batch of fertilizer, so that it can be allowed only when the right pockets are filled? Did the ring of racketeers with greased palms get broken, or did it not change with the change of government, and was this the reason why this matter had to go right up to the top for the “approval” of a perfectly safe and fine fertilizer? The fertilizer has been “condemned” as being “laced with cadmium” and other heavy metals using deliberately contrived specifications ?
How clean the food you eat depends fundamentally on the cleanliness and ecology of the soil to start with. It is only secondarily dependent on the purity of fertilizers in regard to trace metals, or the presence of traces of pesticides; even though a very different hype has been developed in the media for the consumption of a public frightened for its health and ready to even believe people like Dr. Mercola (see:
http://www.dailynews.lk/2018/11/07/features/167704/toxic-cocktail-myth-and-truth) or even “Dr”. Dhammika Bandara inspired by Kaali Amma.
All soils have a certain amount of naturally occurring toxins, as well as toxins from human activity, e.g, earth works, mining, farming, burning of fossil fuels or forests that cause acid rain and noxious fumes, and poor disposal of garbage. Even organic farming, often believed to be clean and “natural”, produces toxins similar to those in mineral fertilizers, as composting plant matter leads to the cyclic accumulation of heavy metals like cadmium and lead found naturally in the soil, and re-concentrated in plant matter used for composting.
Mineral fertilizers like triphosphate (TPS) are mined from the ground, usually from desert locations (e.g., in Morocco, Nauri Islands in New Zealand). These mineral deposits are becoming increasingly scarce and phosphates are a threatened commodity. Mineral fertilizers applied to the soil also contribute some cadmium (and other trace metals) to the soil.
Let us take an “extremely polluted sample” of fertilizer by Sri Lanka’s specification, e.g. Nauru phosphate which has some 90 mg/kg of cadmium, i.e., 15 times more than that specified by the current absurd SL standard. We have shown (e.g., https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-018-0140-x)
that it will still take many centuries to modify the cadmium levels in, say, Sri Lankan soil significantly by such fertilizer additions. Hence even such a so-called “bad” fertilizer, but used in Australia and New Zealand, would be perfectly safe for use in Sri Lanka too.
Sri Lanka has a deposit of phosphate minerals at Eppawala. While it is quite high in its arsenic contamination, it has very low cadmium contamination. Some people have urged the government to exploit the Eppawala deposits. I have opposed this as the conversion of the rock phosphate to usable TPS etc., is a highly polluting process that is best done far away from human habitations – i.e., unsuitable for Sri Lanka. In any case, a local production will also cost three to ten times more than what is available in the international market. Given the increasing scarcity of phosphate, the local deposit should be regarded as a national treasure that must be conserved for future use, until cleaner nano-technological methods for mineral exploitation become available.
Hence, I urge the government to change the cadmium and other heavy metal specifications used in Sri Lanka to conform to modern scientific knowledge, and align its standards with values used internationally. Having looked at the level of cadmium in Sri Lankan soils, I believe that an appropriate standard for Sri Lanka is to set its upper level for cadmium to be about 100-150 mg per kg of Phosphate, instead the current absurdly low value.
The author is currently affiliated with the National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, and the University of Montreal. He was a past VC and Professor of Chemistry at Vidyodaya/SJP university.
Lawyers Collective condemns Anti-Terrorism and Online Safety Bills
The Lawyers’ Collective condemns the latest version of the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Online Safety Bill gazetted in September 2023. The Government of Sri Lanka has failed to respond to the serious and fundamental concerns raised about the Anti-Terrorism Bill gazetted in March this year. The government also failed to adopt any transparent and accountable process through which the Bills were explained, justified and robust public consultation facilitated before they were gazetted. The definitions adopted for ‘terrorism’ and ‘false statement’, and related offences created under the two Bills are excessively broad and vague, and thus do not represent a measured and proportionate means of serving specific and necessary law and order objectives.
Indeed, the Anti-Terrorism and Online Safety Bills represent an attempt to institutionalise excessive executive discretionary power over a broad range of ordinary activities of the citizens of Sri Lanka. At a time when the country’s democracy quotient is at a historical low, attempts to rush into enactment dangerous laws that have a high potential to crush dissent and curb civil liberties causes much alarm. Citizens of this country are currently making a wide range of demands on their elected representatives and government officials in the context of the deep economic crisis and the bearing it has on their lives.
Democracy demands that the widest possible space be created at this time to hear citizens’ grievances and to engage citizens and citizen groups, especially vulnerable communities. The intolerance represented by the two proposed laws towards legitimate dissent, critique, opposition and organising around different ideas and solutions for governance in Sri Lanka is a direct threat to democracy, civil liberties and the role of the judiciary in protecting citizens’ sovereignty against executive capture.
Sri Lankan recent history is marked by terrible violence and social and economic devastation caused by repressive approaches to unrest and inequality in our society and polity. Having emerged from decades of war and violent insurrection, the government and opposition parties would be mindful of the responsibility that they bear towards the current and future citizens of this country. In this moment, the legal profession has a role and responsibility to act to safeguard people’s treasured freedoms.
The Lawyers’ Collective calls for the immediate withdrawal of the two Bills. The Collective also calls for the adoption of a transparent process of consultative law making and the proposal of executive and legal measures that are proportionate and responsive to the needs of the people. The Collective demands that the government desist from enacting laws that will harm the very foundations of democracy in Sri Lanka. Such laws that grant the executive excessive powers to curtail citizen’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and thought, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and liberty erode the sovereignty of the people that is the very basis of Sri Lanka’s constitution.
On behalf of the Lawyers’ Collective
Rienzie Arsecularatne, President’s Counsel.
Upul Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel
Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
Geoffrey Alagaratnam, President’s Counsel
Dinal Phillips, President’s Counsel
Saliya Pieris, President’s Counsel
Lal Wijenayake, Attorney-at-Law
Upul Kumarapperuma, Attorney-at-Law
K.W. Janaranjana, Attorney-at-Law
Nuwan Bopege, Attorney-at-Law
Recently, I have made it a point to listen carefully to dhamma discourses by erudite Bhikkus , very specially on the consumption of meat by Buddhists and the Vinaya rules laid down by the Buddha on this subject.
To begin with it was one of the conditions which Devadatta insisted on as mandatory, which the Buddha in his profound infinite knowledge declined as impractical. He even cited instances where previous Buddhas declined such requests. What the Buddha said was that killing was not at all permissible, but the consumption of meat was left to the discretion of the persons concerned whether it be the lay persons or bhikkus.
Some may dislike meat out of sheer sansaric habit while others may relish it, but the Budhdha laid down certain important pre-conditions on the consumption of meat. He prohibited eating the flesh of 10 animal species like the lion, elephant, tiger, leopard, bear, horse, dog, cat, snake and human flesh.
On the other hand he prescribed an important Vinaya rule known as the ‘thri kotika paarishudda‘ which literally means that whoever gives it as an offering or consuming it must make sure that the meat comes from an animal which was not specifically slaughtered for the purpose. Meat bought at a market is without doubt such a meat and may be offered to and received by a Bhikku..
A previous Buddha has even assisted a bhikku through his infinite knowledge by suggesting that he should go begging for alms on a particular street where a lay dayaka was preparing a meal of rice with crab curry. The bhikku concerned was extremely pious but could not attain arahat status as he had an excruciating earache. No sooner he ate the crab meal his acute pain ceased and he concentrated his mind on the dhamma and attained Arahathood then and there. The layman who offered the crab meal noticed the difference in the Bhikku and was thrilled to know that he had given alms to an Arahat.. This hppy thought came back to him at the time of his death, whicn occurred very much later.
His Chuthi chiththa was so powerful that he was born in a splendid divine abode with a huge mansion which had the insignia of a large golden crab at its entrance to remind him and all of the crab meal which was offered to an Arahat.
A lay person once asked the Buddha whether it was correct to recommend the eating of foul smelling flesh like fish for instance and the Buddha has replied that tanha irrsiya krodha maanna dhitti are more foul smelling and should be eschewed completely if you wish to attain the bliss of Nibbana. Looking down on people who consume meat is also a sinful thought which should be avoided , as it does not benefit anyone.
Dear friends, I have tried to tell the English speaking folk who do not have the opportunity to listen to our Sinhala sermons some profound truths. They even do not know that there have been more than 500,000 Buddhas in the past aeons of time and a Mahaa Kalpa is an enomous space in time which only a Budhha can comprehend. The knowledge of a Sammaa Sambuddha is infinite.
Lastly a word of caution to those who obstruct the doing of good deeds. They cannot even receive the Anumodnaa Kusalaya by a mere wish of happiness at a good deed, [sadhu] but will certainly reap the evil rewards of obstructing good deeds, May you all be well and happy.
Cecil de Mel,
Tel. 011 2648565
Nuclear power for Sri Lanka
There is much talk at the moment of nuclear power generation for the country. The idea is certainly very good. We do need more energy to run the county and the future demand will be far higher than now.
I do understand that nuclear energy is clean, cheap and harmful effects on the environment are minimal. So far the thinking is fine; but it’s important to bear in mind that in case of an accident, the damage will be colossal as we have seen in Chernobyl. What a disaster that was! And in a country much more disciplined than us and with far better technological knowledge and experience. Our knowledge will be wanting.
If all does go well, it will be fine but in case of an accident I hate to think of the kind of disaster we shall have to face.
We have a reputation for using cheap material and also for taking short cuts. Our work ethic too is most wanting. A nuclear power plant needs to be handled with the greatest care. An accident will cause much irreparable damage.
If we do go ahead with the nuclear power proposal, the project (including, most importantly, construction) must be handled by those who have experience and an unblemished record.Nuclear power will be a must some time or other. We must tread the road towards it extremely cautiously.
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