Cayman Islands Cabinet ministers confirmed this week that the government would move to ban the importation of the chemical herbicide paraquat following sustained community pressure to do so over the past few years.
Finance Minister Marco Archer said the issue had been decided in the Progressives government caucus meeting about two weeks ago, but that details of the ban had not been worked out.
Assuming approval was granted by Cabinet members, the ban could likely be handled via a regulatory change to a list of prohibited chemicals maintained by the Cayman Islands Department of Agriculture. However, Agriculture Minister Kurt Tibbetts has said the wider issue of a comprehensive chemical control law for Cayman needs to be considered as well. Such legislation would include issues related to paraquat importation, he said.
For now, petitioners seeking to ban the dangerous herbicide – which is almost always fatal if ingested in sufficient quantity – urged government to move “sooner rather than later.” A demonstration outside the Government Administration Building had been planned for Thursday but was called off following the government’s announcement.
“We do not believe that there is time and resources to put [a comprehensive chemical control law] together in a time frame that is acceptable to the danger that paraquat is posing to our people and their pets,” said Selena Tibbetts, a local attorney who created a Facebook page to advocate for the paraquat ban and who assisted with a 2012 petition supporting the proposed ban.
That petition, containing more than 4,800 names of voters and non-voters in the Cayman Islands, was delivered to then-Governor Duncan Taylor in May 2013, but it apparently wasn’t passed along to Minister Tibbetts until October 2013.
The person credited with initiating the petition, Island Veterinary Services nurse Jennie Boyers, said she got fed up with the sheer number of pets, dogs in particular, dying from what was obviously paraquat poisoning. Island Veterinary Services has recorded more than 200 cases of suspected poisoning from the chemical since the year 2000 in the Cayman Islands, and at least 50 of those cases have been confirmed through testing to be the result of paraquat poisoning.
Ms. Boyers said a fellow veterinary nurse at the practice watched both of her dogs die from paraquat poisoning after the animals ate chemical-laced meat that was left on the side of the road in West Bay while they were on walks with their owner.
Depending on the amount of the chemical consumed, a dog can take weeks to die as the poison slowly restricts the animal’s breathing and destroys its organs. In most cases, the dogs have to be euthanized to prevent further suffering, Ms. Boyers said.
On Sunday, the latest canine victim of a suspected paraquat poisoning, Molly, a mixed-breed pet of a family that lives on Crewe Road, died after local vets believed she either ate paraquat or ate a chicken that had died from it.
There is no known cure for paraquat poisoning.
“The minute the dog walks in, we know it’s paraquat because of the way they’re breathing,” Ms. Boyers said. “Both of Jo Laws’s [the veterinary nurse] dogs were poisoned and they were on a leash. In other cases, it’s been thrown into a fenced-in yard. We have families, children come in and the [dying] dog is part of their family. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Paraquat can also kill humans, especially small children who might get their hands on the substance or even children who are licked by an animal that has ingested a certain amount of it. Ms. Tibbetts believes it is only a matter of time before such a case occurs. “There are little land mines laying around on the ground,” she said, “and if you touch one, that’s it, game over.”
Advocates for banning paraquat acknowledge that banning the substance likely won’t prevent people from attempting to poison an animal. However, for most of the other chemical substances that might be used, including rat poison, there are antidotes or treatments.
An importation ban also does not address issues regarding paraquat that has already been lawfully purchased and which is currently held on the islands. Cabinet members have made no statements regarding what proposals, if any, would seek to address that situation.