Laboratory error prevents pesticide poisoning investigation

A freedom of information request from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), has uncovered evidence of “mind-boggling incompetence” by Glasgow University after its staff destroyed three blood samples which prevented them from being screened for pesticide poisoning.

As result of this mistake an official investigation into whether a Scottish farm worker was killed by a highly toxic pesticide had to be abandoned. Graham Stephen died on May 3, 2002, after he had applied a dangerous pesticide known as aldicarb to a potato crop on a farm near Forfar in Tayside. He was 37.

The procurator fiscal ordered his blood to be screened for aldicarb and samples were sent to the forensic science laboratories at the University of Glasgow. However the samples were accidentally disposed of after six months before techniques for detecting aldicarb had been developed.

Aldicarb is one of the most hazardous pesticides that is still licensed for use on farms in the UK. It used to be made at the chemical plant at Bhopal in India where an accident in 1984 killed 8000 people. Because of the risks aldicarb poses to human health and the environment, the European Union has been attempting to ban it, but this has been resisted by the UK and other countries, backed by aldicarb’s multinational manufacturer, Bayer CropScience. As a result, the UK is exempt from a ban on aldicarb that was introduced by the EU in September 2003. UK farmers are authorised to keep using it to prevent nematode worms from eating potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onions – but only until the end of 2007.

Pesticide probe into death of farm worker hit by lab error (Sunday Herald, 28 August 2005)