Fertilisers and Chronic Kidney Disease: Truth
Posted on July 22nd, 2021

Dr. C. S. WEERARATNA Courtesy The Island

I have heard the Minister of Agriculture, speaking in Parliament, defending the ban on importing inorganic fertilisers, say that fertilisers are one of the causes of the increased incidence of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDu), reported mainly in the North Central Province.

Cadmium, which is nephrotoxic, is found in Eppawala Apatite (rock phosphate- EP). Rock phosphate is used to manufacture phosphate fertilisers such as Triple Super Phosphate (TSP).

Although EP, and TSP contain cadmium, it is present in insoluble complex forms. When these phosphatic fertilizers are applied to soils, only a very small percentage of cadmium, in the fertiliser gets into water as cadmium ion (Cd ++). The balanced cadmium is not easily available and remains as an insoluble complex. Hence, Cd is not available for plants to be absorbed. A number of soil factors, such as soil pH, determine Cd availability. TSP is used as a fertiliser in all agricultural areas in the country including upcountry, but CKDu is reported mainly in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts.

The exact cause of the disease is not known. A number of seminars/symposia on CKDu have been held during the last few years. Results of studies carried out by a number of Sri Lankan scientists were presented at these seminars, and CKDu was attributed to a toxic element/s or compound/s in drinking water. However, there is no conclusive evidence on what causes CKDu.

The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, carried out a multidisciplinary research study during 2010-2012. This study, costing nearly Rs. 100 million, was assisted by around 40 Sri Lankan scientists. There was no conclusive evidence from this study as to what causes CKDu. A recent review by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) (ref. IWMI Working Paper 158) indicates that no specific substance/compound has been proved to cause CKDu.

Some, including the Minister of Agriculture, attribute CKDu to fertilizers. If so, it is not possible to explain why CKDu is not prevalent in many other districts such as Kalutara, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya , Hambantota, etc., where TSP is applied in large amounts. Even in the NCP, the occurrence of CKDu is considerably higher in some DS divisions than in others.

It is very important that those who attribute CKDu to fertilisers, including the Minister of Agriculture, refrain from citing unconfirmed unscientific views/ideas, which tend to give wrong information to the general public and to policymakers.



One Response to “Fertilisers and Chronic Kidney Disease: Truth”

  1. Nimal Says:

    My sister’s daughter and her husband died of Kidney failure. Husband went to Polonaruwa to set up a business and they were there for only 3 months, perhaps drinking the water from the well. They said that many have problems with Kidneys in that area.
    Water is definitely polluted.Govt must make a sincere effort to get some specialist to look into this.

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