(Beyond Pesticides, July 7, 2008) Officials have halted recovery efforts in the Philippines for bodies on the partially sunken ship MV Princess of the Stars after it was revealed that the ship’s cargo hull contains ten tons of the highly toxic pesticide endosulfan. The ship capsized and partially sank on June 21 in a typhoon, killing nearly 800 people onboard. Although the Philippines banned the use of endosulfan in 1993 because of its serious health effects, multi-national food companies Dole and Del Monte have maintained exemptions to the ban and continue to use endosulfan. In the wake of this tragedy, the potential for toxic contamination looms large and has raised frustrations for leaders in the government who are calling for an end to these exemptions, which benefit only foreign companies and threaten the health of the Philippine people.
Globally, endosulfan has received substantial attention for its severe health and environmental effects. The European Union has submitted a petition that endosulfan be included in the Stockholm Convention, the international treaty regulating highly toxic, persistent organic pollutants. Endosulfan is banned in over 20 countries, including those of the European Union. Despite its known toxicity, endosulfan remains a commonly used insecticide and acaricide (mite-killer) in many countries on vegetables, cotton, tea, cereals and ornamentals for the control of such insects as aphids, Colorado potato beetles, leafhoppers, cabbage worms, and tsetse flies.In the U.S., endosulfan is currently a restricted use pesticide and is under consideration for reregistration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (read our daily news blog on the reregistration eligibility documents for endosulfan).
According to EPA, annual usage of endosulfan in the U.S. is approximately 1.4 million lbs. Current top uses by volume in the U.S. include cotton, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and potatoes. Endosulfan is registered as an acute toxicity class I (the most toxic) pesticide, and must bear the label “Danger.”
Endosulfan affects the nervous system and has been one of the most frequently reported causes of farmworker poisoning. In addition to nervous system affects, farmworkers and their children exposed to endosulfan have experienced congenital physical disorders, mental retardation, and death. While farmworkers are the population group most susceptible to the deleterious effects of endosulfan because of their close contact with the toxic chemical, endosulfan also poses a risk to the population at large because of common food, air, and water contamination.
Endosulfan is an organochlorine pesticide, in the same family as DDT and lindane, and like DDT and lindane, it bioaccumulates and has been found in places as far from point of use as the arctic. It is also a suspected endocrine disruptor, affecting hormones and reproduction in aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Because of these compelling reasons and in light of the fact that less-toxic alternatives are available, scientists and advocates petitioned the EPA in May to ban endosulfan (read the daily news blogs and access the petition).
The manufacturer of this endosulfan is Makhteshim Agan, an Israeli company that purchased the registration of endosulfan from FMC, which manufactured endosulfan under the brand name Thiodan. Bayer is also currently a registrant of endosulfan, but rumors have circulated that it plans to cancel its registration in the U.S. Makhteshim Agan is known as a bad actor company that purchases registrations of hazardous chemicals that other companies plan to cancel. Pesticide Action Network North America has been following the global use and registration of endosulfan, its health effects, and the most recent news stories on the MV Princess of the Stars. Its reporting on endosulfan is available here.
This tragic event reminds us that toxic pesticides create public health and environmental risks in every aspect of their existence from production to transport, storage, and use. In an expression of frustration with the all too common practice of putting profits over people, Deputy Minority Leader Satur Ocampo said succinctly, “There is a compelling basis for the ban. Health hazards versus the profits of the foreign firm using it.” The only way to prevent contamination and the effects that ensue is to ban the production and use of toxic chemicals such as endosulfan.