Endosulfan is in the news in India again, with new evidence of the insecticide's impact on children and bees.
On January 23, a report covered in The Hindu found that endosulfan is linked to declining honeybee populations in Idukki and Kasaragod districts in India. Scientists observed that the day following an endosulfan spray, local honeybees showed symptoms of poisoning and died. Corresponding declines in fruit yields were also reported where endosulfan had been sprayed, possibly reflecting the loss of the pollinators.
The report also found that in the community of Koragas, where honey is both collected in the wild and through organized beekeepers, drastic reductions in honey supply were reported during the years of endosulfan use. This supports similar findings from the Kerala-based PAN partner group Thanal, which found that local beekeepers reported mass bee die offs and saw a staggering reduction of annual honey yield (from 12,015 kg to 68.5 kg) in the mid ‘80s when endosulfan was being aerially sprayed. The group reports that annual honey yields have moderately recovered since aerial spraying of endosulfan was banned.
A quick refresher: Endosulfan is a highly toxic persistent pesticide that is facing a global ban under the Stockhom Convention. India is the primary global producer of the pesticide, and has been an aggressive advocate for its continued use. Community activists in the Indian state of Kerala have tirelessly documented the on-the-ground dangers of endosulfan, and won a state-level ban of the insecticide. PAN staff scientist Karl Tupper has frequently blogged about endosulfan’s dangers, India's positions and the chemical's path to worldwide phase out.
Another report released in India on January 23 found a possible correlation between endosulfan and learning disabilities. Researchers examined the academic performance of students at two high schools in the area where aerial spraying of endosulfan took place. They found that the passing rate of students rose substantially once endosulfan ceased being sprayed. Although more research is needed to confirm the findings, endosulfan is a neurotoxin and has been linked to children's learning disabilities in one California study and reduced brain function in lab animals.
The most recent news out of the state of Kerala is more promising. The Director of Agriculture is tightening the laws governing sale of hazardous pesticides, so explicit "prescriptions" or use permits are now required for all pesticide applications. Community groups in Kerala are applauding the move, and hoping it could be the first step of a policy that would phase out the use of pesticides and promote organic farming in the state of Kerala. Congratulations to the hardworking pesticide reform and community health advocates in Kerala!