(Beyond Pesticides, February 10, 2011) Despite the numerous scientific data on the devastating health and environmental consequences of endosulfan —a pesticide so toxic that is banned in over 60 countries including the U.S., officials in India say that a ban on the widely used chemical would put the country’s food security at risk and harm the welfare of farmers. However, thousands of villagers in Kerala, India, who have become disabled due to the use of the pesticide, pushed for a state ban in 2004 and have since joined the global movement to ban endosulfan. Doctors say that over 550 deaths and health problems in over 6,000 people in the region are related to the aerial spraying of the pesticide over cashew farms between 1979 and 2000.
“Six thousand patients living with disabilities is not enough scientific evidence to enforce a national ban?,” asked B.C. Kumar, to the Washington Post. Kumar’s father, a cashew farm laborer, died of cancer.
The endosulfan industry in India is estmiated to be worth over $100 million, making it the world’s largest producer, exporter and user of the product. The three companies that produce the product in India, including one that is partially government-owned, claim that pesticide manufacturers in Europe are driving the push for the ban in an effort to promote their products.
Endosulfan is an organochlorine insecticide that was first registered for use in the U.S. in the 1950s. It is an endocrine disruptor and exposure in male children may delay sexual maturity and interfere with sex hormone synthesis. Male school children exposed to the highly toxic insecticide endosulfan showed delayed sexual maturity compared with similar children who were not exposed. Endosulfan also appears to interfere with sex hormone synthesis in males aged 10-19 years in a community of cashew plantations in northern Kerala, India.
In June, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would take action to end all uses of the insecticide endosulfan, after deciding that new data presented to the agency in response to its 2002 Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED), which shows that risks faced by workers are greater than previously known. In completing revised assessments, EPA concluded that endosulfan’s significant risks to wildlife and agricultural workers outweigh its limited benefits to growers and consumers. EPA also found that there are risks above the agency’s level of concern for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, as well as birds and mammals that consume aquatic prey which have ingested endosulfan.
EPA’s decision followed a lawsuit that was filed on behalf of environmental and farmworker groups, including Beyond Pesticides, on July 24, 2008. The suit cited EPA’s glaring omission in not considering risks to children: a 2007 study found that children exposed to endosulfan in the first trimester of pregnancy had a significantly greater risk for developing autism spectrum disorders. It also poses risks to school children in agricultural communities where it has been detected at unsafe levels in the air. In addition, endosulfan has been found in food supplies, drinking water, and in the tissues and breast milk of pregnant mothers.
As a potent environmental pollutant, endosulfan is especially toxic to fish and other aquatic life. It also affects birds, bees, earthworms, and other beneficial insects. Endosulfan is volatile, persistent, and has a high potential to bio-accumulate in aquatic and terrestrial organisms. A large body of scientific literature documents endosulfan’s medium- and long-range transport on a global scale and subsequent accumulation in nearly all environmental media. Through the process of global distillation, endosulfan is present in air, water, sediment, and biota thousands of miles from use areas. Endosulfan travels such long distances that it has been found in Sierra Nevada lakes and on Mt. Everest. This persistent pesticide can also migrate to the Poles on wind and ocean currents where Arctic communities have documented contamination. It is one of the most abundant organochlorine pesticides found in the Arctic, and has also been detected in the Great Lakes and various mountainous areas including the National Parks in the western United States, distant from use sites. Because of its presence in remote locations, endosulfan may be considered a persistent organic pollutant that may result in human exposure via the food web.
This April, a group of 172 nations is scheduled to make a final decision on whether or not endosulfan will be declared as a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP) following recommendations from the December 2009 Stockholm Convention Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC). The committee recommends urgent “global action” to address health and environmental impacts of the toxic pesticide. Scientific experts at the POPRC concluded that endosulfan is likely to cause significant adverse human health and environmental effects as a result of the chemical’s medium- and long-range transport on a global scale and subsequent accumulation in nearly all environmental media.
Despite this and the fact that 60 countries, including 27 in the European Union, 21 in Africa and the U.S., progress continues to be obstructed by the Government of India. As Dr. Meriel Watts, Coordinator of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand observes: “In India, the Government itself manufactures endosulfan —it owns Hindustan Insecticides which manufactures endosulfan, and then the Indian Government acts in the international conventions to stop endosulfan’s listing. It has members on both the Stockholm Convention’s POPS Review Committee and the Rotterdam Convention’s Chemical Review Committee. This is a “clear conflict of interest,” she says. “A manufacturer is using its power to veto international agreements on a chemical.”
Source: Washington Post