Scientists say Gods and tests helped detect arsenic in agrochemicals

By Mangala Weerasekera

Two Kelaniya University scientists have admitted they sought divine intervention to detect arsenic in imported agrochemicals, but said their conclusion is also based on scientific tests.

“We have carried out the necessary tests in the laboratory and proved that arsenic is there in dangerous levels in imported agrochemicals used in Sri Lanka,” Science Faculty dean Prof. Nalin De Silva said.
He said their research proved that the water and the soil had been contaminated not only with arsenic but also with mercury and cyanide that were in the agrochemicals.

Tests at the Lab (left) and Prof Priyani Paranagama

He said they took samples from several North Central Province areas such as Padaviya, Sripura, Anuradhapura and Mahawilachchiya – areas where many farmers have been afflicted with kidney disease.

Co-researcher and Chemistry Department head, Prof. Priyani Paranagama, said there was nothing incredible about the fact that they had sought divine intervention before they began the research.
She said: “When people buy a new vehicle they take it to Kataragama and invoke the blessings of the Gods. When they lay the foundation stone for a new house, they light a lamp and ask for God’s blessings. So why are we being ridiculed when we do the same?”

Prof. Paranagama said the wife of a university lecturer who had developed her mental faculties to communicate with a higher being had first told them of the contamination of the agrochemicals with arsenic, mercury and cyanide which led them to undertake the research using an atomic absorption spectrometer.

“But we did not cling on to the Gods alone. We have proved in a proper scientific manner that there is arsenic present in agrochemicals and they are at harmful level,” Prof. Paranagama said. She said their detractors had highlighted their claim that they were guided by supernatural powers, to devalue their findings.

Both the Government and the agrochemical importers have denied that the chemicals they import contain arsenic.

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