Pesticide Endosulfan Ruled “Highly Toxic”

Pesticide Endosulfan Ruled “Highly Toxic”: “Bookmark and Share

by Ben Block on October 23, 2009

FMC chemical plantAn international scientific review committee ruled last week
that endosulfan, a widely used pesticide, is highly toxic to humans and
wildlife.

The ruling concludes debate on whether the chemical should
be classified as a persistent organic pollutant (POP), a decision that could
result in a global ban.

‘Thankfully the science – rather than political and economic
interests – has been at the fore, and now there is a clear body of experts who
support endosulfans eradication as a POP,’ said Juliette Williams, founding
director of the London-based Environmental
Justice Foundation.

Endosulfan
has been linked to mental retardation and death among farm workers, especially
in circumstances when the chemical was applied excessively or improperly.
Reproductive health effects and kidney failure have also been observed among
those exposed at lower concentrations.

In the Arctic, bird, marine mammal, and fish populations are accumulating endosulfan in their fat cells.
The chemical is able to travel long distances via wind and water currents, a
characteristic trait of POPs.

Endosulfan is now one step away from inclusion in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic
Pollutants
, the international treaty that enforces bans on poisonous
pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

Once the review committee evaluates the socio-economic
impact of phasing out endosulfan, international negotiators will meet in May
2011 to decide appropriate control measures.

At least 10,000 metric tons of endosulfan are still produced
each year and applied on fruits, vegetables, and grains in some 30 countries.
The substance is currently being phased out in about 60 countries, including those
in the European Union, Thailand, and Niger, according to Karl Tupper, coordinator
of Pesticide Action Network (PAN)-North
America’s
environmental monitoring program.

‘A dwindling number of countries are actively using
endosulfan,’ Tupper said. ‘The U.S.
and Canada
are in the midst of a re-evaluation of the chemical…. Were pretty confident
the U.S.
is going to ban it by the end of this year.’

India’s
representative to the POPs review committee was the lone opponent of listing
endosulfan as a POP. The Indian delegation has accused the European Union, the
main proponent of an endosulfan ban, of targeting the chemical in order to
promote the European pesticide industry’s patented products.

The Indian delegation also raised questions about the
scientific evidence of endosulfan’s toxicity, although Tupper said that the
representatives were supporting their argument with studies produced more than
20 years ago.

‘Indias
influence has been unfortunate in that it has, to a degree, politicized a
process which is meant to be based on science,’ Williams said.

India
is among the world’s leading producers, exporters, and consumers of endosulfan.
The government also owns Hindustan Insecticides, Ltd., a major endosulfan
producer. 

Due to India’s
financial interest in continuing endosulfan use, environmental groups including
the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and PAN requested that the
country recuse itself from the committee’s decision.

‘Most delegates were blissfully unaware of the conflict of
interest,’ said Mariann Lloyd-Smith, a senior advisor to the Australia-based National
Toxics Network Inc. and an IPEN co-chair.

Nine pollutants were added to the Stockholm Convention in
May, the first new toxics included in the treaty since a group of chemicals
known as ‘the dirty
dozen’
was first banned in 2001.

In addition to the endosulfan ruling, the review committee
agreed to evaluate whether the flame retardant HBCD, used primarily in thermal
insulation foams, qualifies as a POP.

Ben Block is a staff
writer with the
Worldwatch
Institute
. He can be
reached at
bblock@worldwatch.org.

This article is a product of Eye on Earth, Worldwatch Institute’s online news
service. For permission to reprint Eye on Earth content, please contact Juli
Diamond at
jdiamond@worldwatch.org.

(Via Worldwatch Institute.)

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