Spurt of death by Endosulfan Pesticide
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Spurt of death by Endosulfan Pesticide

Geneva : Switzerland | Apr 28, 2011 at 1:39 AM PDT
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Jairam Ramesh

Spurt of death by Endosulfan Pesticide

(Madan Menon Thottasseri)

In the second week of April,2011 campaigners representing hundreds of Public Interest groups in Philippines had urged their regime to back the global ban on Endosulfan to preserve the globe for future generations.

It is to be noted that the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP) meets on April 25-29 in Geneva, Switzerland to review the implementation of the treaty which includes recommendation by a panel of scientific experts to ban Endosulfan. The UN POPs Review Committee had recommended in the last year for the addition of Endosulfan to Annex A of the treaty as a new persistent organic pollutant for worldwide elimination.

More than 80 countries including 27 EU nations and Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea and Sri Lanka, have banned Endosulfan or phasing it out. In June 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will terminate all uses of Endosulfan because it "poses unacceptable risks to agricultural workers and wildlife, and can persist in the environment."

Endosulfan is turning up as residues in our staple food is an endocrine disruptor, mimicking estrogen at very low levels of exposure and is implicated in breast cancer. It is also a neurotoxin and is linked to Parkinson's disease, it causes birth defects, and it undermines the immune system." says Dr. Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand. She adds, "Many hundreds of people have been killed, particularly in Africa and India, by exposure to this highly toxic and destructive pesticide when used in agriculture.

Banned Endosulfan continues to be in use in the paddy fields of Kedah,Malaysia had raised concerns about the government's implementation of the ban and the consequent health hazards posed by farmers and consumers. Unfortunately Endosulfan is smuggled into Malaysia from Thailand and is distributed in ingenious ways.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN), an international network in Germany which focuses on protecting community health and the environment had applauded the recent recommendation by government chemical experts that politicians include the toxic chemical endosulfan on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of the Rotterdam Convention in 2008.

PAN had confirmed that the deadly pesticide is a leading cause of poisoning worldwide. According to PAN Communities should not have to suffer from exposure to endosulfan when so much is known about its dangers.

PAN had been high-lighting dangers of Endosulfan through its regional centers in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America for more than two decades. Endosulfan is acutely toxic, is known to disrupt the hormone system, can damage the human reproductive system and has been linked to breast cancer among other human health effects. According to Davo Simplice Vodouhe [Organisation Beninoise pour la Promotion de l'Agriculture Biologique (OBEPAB), Benin] "It is the second most widely used insecticide in cotton production, and has been linked to many incidents of pesticide poisoning, sometimes fatal, among West African cotton farmers." Endosulfan has been linked to the occurrence of disproportionate incidence of severe birth defects, among other health impacts, among communities exposed to the pesticide in many countries like India.

Endosulfan is acutely toxic, is known to disrupt the hormone system, can damage the human reproductive system and has been linked to breast cancer among other human health effects. PAN UK, PAN Africa, and OBEPAB had recently published 'Living with Poison: Problems of Endosulfan in West African cotton growing systems', which documents some of the damage caused by this outdated, toxic organochlorine pesticide in communities. . According to Davo Simplice Vodouh of OBEPAB "It is the second most widely used insecticide in cotton production, and has been linked to many incidents of pesticide poisoning, sometimes fatal, among West African cotton farmers."

According to the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) and the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides (Art. 3.5 and Art. 5.2.4), the conditions of use in developing countries are an important indication of the potential health risks to workers posed by the use and exposure to pesticides. Under current conditions of use in developing countries safe use of Endosulfan is not possible, and poses an unacceptable threat to the health of workers and small scale farmers. Documentation of adverse effects of endosulfan use under conditions of use in developing countries are being made available by PAN and show detailed evidence that Endosulfan needs to be covered by the Rotterdam Convention.

Under the Rotterdam Convention or "PIC Treaty," once a chemical has been banned in two or more countries in different regions of the world, it can be added to the PIC list. Countries exporting chemicals on the PIC list must inform importing countries that the chemical has been listed, and importing countries can refuse trade in PIC listed chemicals that could threaten the health of their communities. The Chemical Review Committee, a panel of experts from those governments that have ratified the treaty, recommended that governments consider addition of Endosulfan to the list when they meet 2008.

PAN UK, PAN Africa, and OBEPAB had recently published 'Living with Poison: Problems of Endosulfan in West African cotton growing systems', which documents some of the damage caused by this outdated, toxic organochlorine pesticide in communities. http://www.pan-uk/LivingWithPoison.

The existing bans in countries which formerly used Endosulfan products demonstrate that alternatives to Endosulfan are available, especially if attention is not only given to chemical alternatives but to alternative pest management strategies as they are developed in integrated pest management systems or biological agriculture.

The latest banning of Endosulfan was in New Zealnd, in December 2008. In fact the ban was due to three major incidents which revealed its adverse effects in the year 2008; in May,2008 Endosulfan was found in lettuce, strawberries and courgettes in New Zealand, posing health risks to consumers and growers; in June,2008 the ill-fated ship- ‘MV Princess of the Stars’ sank in the Philippines while there was a big threat to marine life and people in shore as it was found to contain 10 metric tonnes of Endosulfan.in November,2008 five students died in Ranchi, India, after drinking milk that had Endosulfan residues.

Focus into India, particularly the State of Kerala:

The tragedy of people exposed to pesticide Endosulfan in Kasaragod district of Kerala is continuing. Despite government promises, official efforts to treat and rehabilitate the victims and protect them from further exposure to contaminated soil and water are wanting.

While incidences of children born with neurobehavioral disorders, congenital malformations and other abnormalities have come down in some of the 11 worst-affected panchayats, they continue to occur in other panchayats.

While about 500 deaths from 1995 have been officially acknowledged as related to the spraying of Endosulfan, unofficial estimates put the total number of deaths since the late seventies around 4000. People are still dying from after-effects of the pesticide, while more than 1000 live in utter misery. The health of more than 9000 persons has been impaired by the pesticide used by the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala at its cashew plantations.

The Corporation began aerial spraying of the pesticide in its plantations spread across 15 panchayats in the district in 1978 and its application continued till 2001. The pesticide, which is not easily degradable, contaminated the soil and water and found its way into the food chain affecting lower and higher forms of life in the area including humans.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had never deviated from his earlier comment that the

The Union Government has no plans to ban use of endosulfan in the farming sector.While attending a function at Thrissur on 7th December,2010 he had reiterated that a committee, appointed to study various health problems noticed in areas where Endosulfan was used, has not recommended any such ban of the hazardous chemical.

The minister was apprised of the plight of people of a village in Kasaragod which had been badly affected by aerial spraying of Endosulfan in cashew plantations and the state government's strong plea for its ban. Although some countries had banned Endosulfan, many others including the US, France and China have not banned its application. Besides, Endosulfan was found to be very effective in controlling pests in certain crops and farmers cultivating these crops are against banning it, he said.

Kerala Minister for Agriculture Mullakkara Ratnakaran had written to the Union Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar to initiate urgent action for banning the manufacture and use of Endosulfan and its formulations under different trade names in the country and also to move the Stockholm Convention for a consensus to ban it internationally.

The central government cannot neglect the health hazards. In a democratic set up, it is the prime duty of the government to allay the fears of the suffering citizens and to take measures to help them recover from overwhelming sense of powerlessness and despair. The ban has to be national to protect the people.

Unfortunately Endosulfan is still being used in Kerala due to smuggling from other states.The State’s agriculture officers are unable to enforce the ban under the Insecticides Act. An agriculture officer can only stop people when they are using it. He cannot stop the smuggling of the pesticides in jeeps and other vehicles. If the use of Endosulfan is to be totally eliminated in the State, a national ban is required.

The Mayees Committee wherein Director of Agriculture of Kerala was a member of the Mayee Committee which had said that no link had been established between the health problems in Kasaragod district and Endosulfan. The Director had signed the Committee’s report in 2005. This still remains the official finding of Kerala’s Agriculture Department before the Centre! The big flaw in Mayee Committe was that it was only consisting of experts in agriculture technology and it will be improper for them to reach a finding on matters connected to health and environmental effects of Endosulfan. Experts in health should speak about the health effects while soil and agriculture scientists and environmentalists may make their contributions. Then, there are doubts whether our laboratories were equipped to determine the presence or effects of Endosulfan sprayed a decade ago. It is evidently proved that constitution of Mayee Committee itself was improper. A committee of agriculture scientists alone was not competent to determine the issue, instead a multi-disciplinary committee can be appointed. At the same time there can be fresh studies only after banning Endosulfan.

Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan had criticised the Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh's comment that that Endosulfan could be banned only if it was proved to have adverse health effects across the country. While citing Jairam Ramesh’s attention to his home state- Karnataka which is also affected by use of endosulfan, the Chief Minister had slammed the Union Minister - “It is devilish to say that further proof was required. He is bringing ridicule to his seat though his self-deceit.”

Jairam Ramesh, our Union Minister for Environment has the acumen on environmental issues and had played a key role in synchronizing global views on climate change to form a more united perception and arrive at acceptable resolutions in the international summits. With his contacts he can very easily get the studies on adverse effects on Edosulfan in other nations which primarily lead to the ban of pesticide. We cannot imagine that there were no serious reasons for banning Endosulfan in more than eighty countries.

Kerala government and various non-governmental organisations in the State had organised protests across the State on 25th April,2011 Monday demanding ban on Endosulfan as the conference of parties of the Stockholm Convention meets in Geneva to consider a global ban.

Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan observed a seven-hour fast at the Martyrs' Column in the state Capital Thiruvanandapuram on the day demanding a ban on Endosulfan. He also sought Central assistance for disbursement to the victims.

He explained on the plight of people in affected areas in the state as well as from the neighboring Karnataka. Around 500 people from different walks of life too joined the fast, held as part of a State-wide observation of Anti-Endosulfan Day by the government. Various state Ministers led protests at district headquarters. It is a disgrace that thousands of people are adversely affected due to unlawful aerial spraying of Endosulfan in cashew estates of the Plantation Corporation of India, a public sector Farm.

The fast was intended to coincide with a the Conference of Parties to Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants that began in Geneva on the same day. The conference is expected to consider a global ban on the pesticide.

Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan ended his 'fasting protest' in the late evening by taking lime juice from Sugathakumari, a poet in Malayalam well known for her to crusade against pollution, brutalities against women etc. V.S.Achuthanandan had deplored India’s stand on the conference of parties of the Stockholm Convention and advocated India to fall in line with the popular global demand for the ban on Endosulfan.

There was crowd of more than 1000 people who took it as a privilege to join with the Octogenarian Chief Minister and take the pledge to fight the menace of endosulfan. They all took the oath from the Food and Civil Supplies Minister C.Divakaran stating that that they would work for elimination of the dreaded pesticide.

There was a big galaxy of ministers, people’s representatives, government physicians, representatives of farmers, NGOs, film celebrities and writers for attending the day long protest against Endosulfan.

Besides a national ban on endosulfan, the Chief Minister demanded that India should support a global ban on endosulfan. The Centre should also provide assistance to the State to compensate the victims aerial spraying of endosulfan in the cashew plantations of State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala.

The Chief Minister took strong objection to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not conceding the demand of an all-party delegation from Kerala for a national ban on Endosulfan and support for the cause at the convention. “The Prime Minister should not use his office to promote the pesticide lobby like the Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar,” he said adding that Mr. Singh should look into the issues presented by the delegation on Friday seriously.

The Green Community is organising a ‘satyagraha' during April 25 - 29 in front of the Secretariat to coincide with the Stockholm Convention.

It is be noted that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had slammed the Central government’s stand on the use of toxic pesticide Endosulfan as leading to “a grave violation of human rights”. NHRC had called for a nation-wide ban and wanted India to purse for a global ban as well as to recommend adequate compensation for victims.

In its recent report NHRC panel accused the government of ignoring the National Institute of Occupational Health’s study detailing the harmful effects of the pesticide on the health and development of children at a north Kerala village. Aerial spraying of the pesticide appears to have caused neurobehavioural disorders, congenital malformations in girls and reproductive abnormalities in boys. Following the NIOH’s 2002 study, the Kerala government had forbidden the use of Endosulfan, but “this ban has been easily circumvented”, said the NHRC report.

The investigation team sent to Kerala in November, 2010 had confirmed that medical disorders still continued in high numbers even while “the relief sanctioned by the Government of Kerala has made very little impact because it is meager, irregular and sometimes siphoned-off before it reaches the intended beneficiaries.”

At the international level, India was the only nation that voted against a worldwide ban on Endosulfan at the last review meeting of the Stockholm Convention in October 2010. At that meeting the Indian government claimed that there was no scientific basis for a ban, despite the NIOH’s comprehensive study showing that Endosulfan had serious and long-term effects on health and environment. Since the 2002 study, 60 other nations have banned the pesticide.

“When it claims a lack of scientific evidence, the Government of India is either being disingenuous or disowning the work of the premier institute of medical research that it has set up,” said the NHRC report.

The Commission said it was “deeply troubled” by the implications of this stand and the consequences it has already had on human rights in India and other countries to which Indian companies have exported the pesticide.

Apart from a ban, the NHRC recommended that the government conduct a nation-wide survey of populations that have been affected by the use of Endosulfan and help State governments provide relief and long-term rehabilitation, including the establishment of a centrally sponsored palliative care hospital in Kasaragod district of Kerala, where at least 6,000 victims live in eleven villages.

The State government has been asked to pay at least Rs. 5 lakh to the families of the dead and severely disabled, and Rs. 3 lakh to the other disabled, with financial help from the Centre. It has been asked to ensure that the increased relief is paid regularly and completely to the victims and their families, and improve health facilities for them.

Indian stand at Geneva:

It is very unfortunate that India had decided not to support to call of international communities in the fifth Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) at Geneva ( 25- 29 April,2011) to ban Endosulfan. Shame! India actually cooked a conspiracy to the human race as a whole while trying for maneuvering the consensus amongst Asia-Pacific group against the ban. This was to be seen as a deviation from the Indian stand for safety to human life and environment.

We have to appreciate tiny nations in gulf region like Bahrain, Qatar and Oman which are currently contesting the draft circulated by India proposing for postponement of the decision on Endosulphan to next summit.

Manufacturer of Endosulphan in India -Excel Crop Care’s director Hariharan too attends the Geneva Conference wherein India is being represented by Joint director of Environmental ministry- Rajiv Gowba and a team of officials including Dy. Secretary of Agri. ministry- Vandana Jain. The official Indian team had to act as a mute spectator when the summit had discussed the adverse effects of Endosulfan. C.Jeyakumar, the Official Observer of Kerala government had rightly prevailed on the international community to take note of plight of people in Kerala and Karnataka and could brief on the issue of the latest fasting protest by the octogenarian Chief Minister Achuthanandan to protest the official Indian stand and to advocate for the ban of Endosulfan

More than 80 countries including 27 EU nations and Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea and Sri Lanka, have banned Endosulfan or phasing it out. In June 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will terminate all uses of Endosulfan because it "poses unacceptable risks to agricultural workers and wildlife, and can persist in the environment."

How can India take a deviated stand on the issue of Endosulfan alone, from U.S while our regime had followed the precedent that anything put forth by U.S was unquestionably acceptable?

The latest news is that the Contact Group on Endosulfan and new persistent organic pollutants to the Stockholm Convention had proceeded to prepare draft decisions for listing Endosulfan for ban.

The group is also preparing a working programme to address alternatives to the deadly pesticide. It was India which was in the forefront for raising the lack of alternatives and non-availability of technology. Yesterday’s prime discussions was focused into the question of listing endosulfan sulphate, one of the degradation products of Endosulfan, for ban and crop-pest complexes for exemption and assess alternatives. The summit is also studying on improving the compliance mechanism for banned persistent organic pollutants and financial assistance to developing countries and countries with economies during the transition period while meeting the treaty obligations.

Dr. Mohammed Asheel of Kerala Health Services, an independent observer, had sent a communication to the Kerala Health Minister P. K. Sreemathi high-lighting the lobbying by the pesticide industry wherein its observers are engaged in influencing the India’s official representatives. Can Indian delegates withstand the pressure from bosses of pesticide industry?

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Chief Minister Achuthanandan
Octogenarian Chief Minister Achuthanandan is still young for his crusade against the killer pesticide- Endosulfan
madanmenon is based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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