Large Fish Kill Sparks Health Concerns in Panama

August 12, 2005

PANAMA CITY (EFE) – Several thousand fish and countless shrimp have died this week in two rivers near the Panama Canal, the victims of pesticides prohibited by local agricultural authorities, a government official reported Monday.Carlos Gómez, director of the National Environmental Authority for Eastern Panama, said he has asked the Health Ministry and the MIDA agricultural development agency to intervene, due to the seriousness of the issue.On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered dead fish and shrimp along the banks of the Mamoni and Bayano Rivers on the Pacific side of the Canal, intending to eat them, without knowing the level of contamination that might be present.Gómez said that in Chepo, 60 kilometers east of the capital, where the two rivers are located, there are several farms that grow rice and use chemicals to control crop disease, insects and other pests.He said the pollution could have originated from aerial and/or terrestrial fumigation, as well as the washing of equipment by farmers in the rivers.“On Sunday, on a tour through the affected area, I gathered water samples, fish and shrimp from both rivers to send them (on Monday) to the laboratories to find out what we’re facing,” Gomez said.He stressed that he had asked the health authorities to take appropriate measures because many people have started eating the poisoned fish and shrimp.Gomez also emphasized that he was going to get in touch with the proper authorities to try and rule out “criminal acts” in the massive killing of aquatic life in the area.He said that in March he sent to all rice producers and other farmers in the area a list of products that are prohibited due to their highly detrimental effect on the environment.A law punishing many ecological crimes with prison terms and heavy fines has been in effect since January.

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