Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Cambodia has joined the growing list of countries that have banned use of the pesticide endosulfan. On March 21, 2003 the Cambodian Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests banned the highly dangerous pesticide that is responsible for accidental deaths and widespread illness and environmental contamination around the world.
Classified as an organochlorine (the same family of pesticides as DDT and dieldrin), endosulfan and its breakdown products persist in the environment, with an estimated half-life of nine months to six years. The pesticide is known to bioaccumulate in humans and other animals, collecting particularly in the liver, kidneys and fatty tissue. There is also strong evidence that it is an endocrine disrupting chemical.
As a neurotoxin, endosulfan is used primarily to kill insects and mites on crops including tea, coffee, cotton, fruits, vegetables, rice and grains. An estimated 1.38 million pounds of the pesticide are applied every year in the U.S., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).
US EPA rates endosulfan as Category Ib pesticide--highly hazardous with extremely high acute toxicity. Endosulfan is readily absorbed by the stomach and lungs, and through the skin. Symptoms of acute endosulfan exposure include central nervous system disorders such as dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, death can result. The chemical has been linked to dozens of accidental deaths in the USA, Colombia, Benin, India, Malaysia, Sudan, and the Philippines.
Endosulfan poisonings reveal the many and extreme risks farmworkers face as they handle acutely toxic pesticides, and demonstrate that safe use cannot be guaranteed in developing countries. In February 2003, two South African boys aged 7 and 10 years old collapsed and died after handling goats that had been treated with endosulfan, which had been sold as a veterinary vaccine, despite the fact that it is an insecticide intended for use on crops. A few years ago in Benin, endosulfan caused 37 deaths and another 36 extremely serious poisonings in one growing season among small farmers who did not have access to protective clothing when spraying, grew other food crops near their cotton fields, and also re-used pesticide containers.
In August of 2002 the state of Kerala, India banned endosulfan, widely used on cashews, after a government health study found the pesticide responsible for unusually high cases of disease and deformity. The report documented significantly higher prevalence of learning disabilities, serious neurological problems, and congenital and reproductive abnormalities throughout the region.
Environmental impact from endosulfan is also a concern. Contamination from the pesticide has caused mass fish deaths in India, Benin, Sudan, Germany, Australia, and the USA. In 1995, an estimated 240,000 fish were killed in Alabama due to endosulfan runoff from cotton fields.
Cambodia is the tenth country to ban endosulfan, joining Belize, Singapore, Tonga, Syria, Germany, UK, Sweden, Netherlands, and Colombia. The Brazilian state of Rondonia, like the Indian state of Kerala, has banned the chemical. Twenty-one other countries have placed "severe" controls on endosulfan (see the PAN Pesticides Database at http://www.pesticideinfo.org/).
US EPA is currently completing re-registration of endosulfan for use on dozens of crops in the U.S. In the process of re-registration, EPA has banned endosulfan use on a number of crops and is requiring mitigation measures to protect farmworkers. However, the re-registration did not assess new information on endosulfan as an endocrine disruptor, nor did it review cumulative affects of chemicals with "similar mechanisms of toxicity," as required under the U.S. Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). U.S. crops with the highest endosulfan sales in 2001 include cotton, cantaloupe, tomatoes and potatoes. Ninety-four endosulfan products are currently registered for use in the U.S.
The growing number of nations banning endosulfan raise the likelihood of the chemical being added to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of the Rotterdam Convention, which can severely limit the market for a pesticide by requiring prior notification to an importing country that the chemical has been banned in other parts of the world. Any chemical banned in two countries in two separate regions can be added to the PIC list.
As national bans of endosulfan gain momentum and the pesticide faces increasing scrutiny through the PIC process, pressure is building for a global ban through the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants. "The time has come for endosulfan to be listed by both of these Conventions," said Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation.
Sources: End of a Killer Chemical, Press Release April 30, 2003, and End of the Road For Endosulfan, The Environmental Justice Foundation, http://www.ejfoundation.org/; U.S. EPA Re-registration Eligibility Decision for Endosulfan November, 2002, http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/endosulfan/; Endosulfan Deaths in Benin, PANNA June 13, 2000; Indian Environmentalists Win Ban on Endosulfan, August 2002, PANNA.
Contact: Environmental Justice Foundation, 5 St Peter's Street, London N1 8JD, UK, phone (44-207) 359 0440; PANNA.