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Battle of the barrels

Pesticide pollution is one of the unexpected health risks in the hurricane aftermath.

Hundreds of unmarked barrels containing banned pesticides are posing a serious health risk to people in southern Honduras.

The barrels were washed out of container trailers in the town of Choluteca during flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch and have been deposited over a wide area. Several people have suffered internal burns from drinking pesticide- contaminated water, and aid workers fear that the problem could get worse.

'Out in the country, a barrel is obviously a precious commodity. Because they are not marked 'hazardous materials', people are tipping the pesticide out and using them to store water,' says RedR engineer Matthew Ridout.

Oxfam health adviser Annie Lloyd surveyed the area around Choluteca by helicopter immediately after the floods. 'There were hundreds of the barrels washed down the river and out to sea,' she said.

The fear is that they will be washed up in rural villages, or that the pesticide will leach into the ground and pollute wells used for drinking water.

According to American soldiers, the barrels contain a whole page of chemicals which are banned in the US. Oxfam does not have the facilities to test for chemicals in drinking water, but is hoping to use laboratories owned by a local shrimp farm which is also fearful about contamination.

Shrimp farm scientist John Wigglesworth claims that the Honduran Government has offered a 230 reward for each barrel of pesticide recovered - almost four times the average monthly wage.

'We have to get these things out of the environment as soon as possible to stop people killing themselves,' he said.

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