Did aerial spraying cause this ‘rare disease?’

On Sept. 13, Lapanday Development Corporation company physician Dr.
Luzviminda Floresca asked Alvarado to present her findings on victim Flor
Watin, 31, mother of seven.

Watin, who lives in Rice Mill, Mandug, Davao City, near a banana plantation
owned by Lapanday Development Corporation, is in the limelight of the public
debate on the proposed ban on aerial spraying.

In the Sept. 12 episode of GMA television program "Reporters' Notebook", she
was portrayed as having been contaminated with chemicals used in aerial

Reportedly, Watin said "yes" to the question of reporter Ralph de Guzman
whether chemicals sprayed through an airplane caused her skin lesions.

Floresca said it is true that Watin was sick but not because of the
chemicals from the company's aerial spraying operations. The doctors
presented a biopsy report showing she was clinically diagnosed with Darier's
disease, the common name for Keratosis follicularis.

The biopsy, performed by Dr. Adam Kenneth Mesola, showed that tissue study
was found consistent with Darier's disease.

Alvarado said Watin's multiple weird lesions is Darier's disease, which is
only the second case she has encountered. She said the case is diagnosed in
one of 100,000 persons in Denmark and one of 30,000 in Scotland.

Alvarado said the disease, although non-contagious, has no permanent cure.
She said the lesions can be controlled by common medication for skin
diseases and could be exacerbated by tight clothing, sunlight exposure and
other extreme conditions.

She stressed she knew of no report that linked the disease to chemicals in
aerial spraying. "Her (Watin) case was sensationalized, " the physician, who
was asked by Lapanday to present her findings to the reporters who toured
the plantation, said.

But a source from the Interface Development Initiatives (IDIS), believed to
be behind Watin's appearance and pronouncement in the television report,
said the woman retracted allegedly due to company pressure.

Watin and her husband George claimed they were coached in the interview by a
woman later identified as a supporter of the proposed ban.

The Watins were introduced to the media when a radio reporter asked about
the television report.

Flor said four of their seven children are also inflicted by the disease.
But, she said, the disease did not inflict their neighbors. "The ordeal has
embarrassed me", she said.

The Department of Health did not have a clear stand on the alleged hazards
of aerial spraying, citing they have no study on the matter.

Watin's case has put her in the center of the debate on whether aerial
spraying of chemicals which is being practiced by banana plantations in
Davao City poses risk to human health and the environment.

Toxicologists Dr. Romeo Quijano and Dr. Lynn Panganiban presented to the
city council studies that showed health hazards caused by chemicals used in
aerial spraying in and out of the country. They said the spray drift
endangers people around plantations.

But the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) insisted
that the spray drift caused only discomfort and that no medical records
proved they indeed caused health hazards.

Contract banana growers and residents of Tamayong, Calinan where three
banana companies operate claimed they have not experienced ill health
effects in their at least 30 years exposure to aerial spraying.

They admitted, however, during a forum of reporters on Sept 13, some
discomfort when the company asked them to close their doors and windows
during spraying or to vacate their houses.

Aerial spraying is conducted at least once a week in banana plantations of
applicable size as a preventive measure against sigatoka fungus that attacks
new banana leaves' growth. PBGEA said all aerial spraying operations are

PBGEA showed on Sept. 13 measures to mitigate possible hazards at the
Lapanday plantation in Mandug. The mixing of the fungicide solution showed
no chemical contact by employees.

They also showed the careful loading of chemicals to the aircraft. The
aircraft, plant technicians explained, used micron-airs or sprayers that
have automatic low-drift mode to "atomize" fungicide solutions. They also
showed that no water from the chemical mixing and loading processes is
released into underground outlets.

Lapanday pilots showed their Global Positioning System claiming it aided
them in ensuring that no drift occurs when spraying on boundaries.

The debates on the proposed ban on aerial spraying are now in the city
council as its main proponent Councilor Leonardo Avila mulled a vote on
Sept. 19.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte preferred to pass the ordinance as a
precautionary measure until banana firms could show proof aerial spraying
does not pose health and environmental hazards.