A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS updates service, for complete information.
December 6, 2007
Lindane milestone, endosulfan setback at "New POPs" meeting: At a late November meeting in Geneva, international experts recommended global elimination of the organochlorine pesticide lindane and four other persistent chemicals under the Stockholm Convention. The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) did not recommend exemptions for pharmaceutical uses of lindane, despite pressure to do so from U.S. officials who participated in the meeting as "observers." The campaign to ban the insecticide endosulfan, however, suffered a setback at the Geneva meeting when the European Union withdrew its nomination because its proposal "was not ready for review." Dr. Meriel Watts, speaking for PAN International, reminded delegates that "endosulfan contaminates the breast milk of women throughout Asia, Africa, Scandinavia, Europe and North America." The Spanish delegation's unexpected request for a delay on endosulfan caught many by surprise. At the same time, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin reports, China, India and Sierra Leone submitted a proposal "that concludes that endosulfan is not a POP." Further action on endosulfan has been postponed until the next POPRC meeting in October 2008, and decisions on the committee's recommendations from both meetings will be made at the next full meeting of the Stockholm Convention in May 2009.
AIDS and Malaria: On December 1, World AIDS Day, Malaria Free Future noted a link between these two deadly diseases. Johns Hopkins University Health Systems Professor Bill Brieger cited a CBS News "HealthWatch" report that warned "malaria is fueling the spread of AIDS in Africa by boosting the HIV in people's bodies." A University of Washington report in Nature found that people with HIV are more likely to succumb to malaria. While right-wing groups have been advocating increased the of DDT to fight malaria, one Uganda study found that a far safer approach combining prophylactics with insecticide-treated bednets produced "a dramatic reduction in malaria incidence among HIV-infected children."
Lindane company's lawsuit gets green light: On December 3, a Chicago court denied a request from the Michigan-based Ecology Center to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by the company that manufactures shampoos and lotions containing the pesticide lindane. The Center was charged with "defamation and trade disparagement" after publishing materials highlighting the human health effects of lice-killing shampoos containing lindane. Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals (MGP), the company that manufactures lindane products in the U.S., sued the nonprofit for questioning the safety of lindane. (Ironically, lindane was deemed dangerous enough to be nominated for global elimination at a major chemical meeting held in Geneva last month - see PANUPS item on POPRC.) The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reports that U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo found that her court had jurisdiction over the case, despite the Ecology Center's request to dismiss or transfer the suit to Michigan. Bucklo dropped Morton Grove's lawsuit against co-defendant Dr. William B. Weil and ordered a separate trial for the National Pediculosis Association, a small non-profit organization in Massachusetts that has also been targeted with legal action by the company.
Zapping pesticides with radiation: It's not just pesticides that pose a hazard: even the packaging is a problem. Brazil uses more than 288,000 tons of pesticides a year and discards 23,000 tons of pesticide containers. In a report in Radiation Physics and Chemistry, scientists from the Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas a Nucleares note that Brazil's annual tide of 170 million pesticide-contaminated containers is "causing problems to human health, animals and plants." Particularly worrisome is chlorpyrifos, a chemical that persists in the environment long after application. The Instituto researchers bombarded a chlorpyrifos-contaminated container with gamma radiation and found the treatment was "efficient for removing chlorpyrifos from the plastic packing." But approaches that utilize radioactive substances create their own environmental problems from both mining and disposal. Dr. Susan Kegley, a PANNA senior scientist, notes that one "perfectly viable alternative" for degrading chlorpyrifos residues is to use "dilute chlorine bleach." She added, "An even better solution would be to eliminate the need for disposal of chlorpyrifos-contaminated containers by eliminating the use of chlorpyrifos altogether."
States sue EPA over TRI downgrade: On November 28, New York and 11 other states sued the U.S. EPA over plans to exempt some 6,700 chemical facilities from complying with the Toxic Release Inventory. The TRI was passed in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984 and chemical release at a Union Carbide plant in West Virginia. The TRI was created in 1986 to monitor nearly 600 industrial chemicals. California Attorney General Jerry Brown accused the EPA of "subverting a key public safety measure that helps communities protect themselves from toxic chemicals." The EPA claimed the new rules would "provide incentives for facilities to improve environmental performance," but Emily Rusch of the California Public Interest Research Group warned the rollbacks "set a dangerous precedent that undermines two decades of public access" under the Community Right-to-Know Act.
Outrage as GMO ban lifted in Australia: On November 27, Victoria Premier John Brumby announced he would end a four-year moratorium on the growing of genetically engineered crops in his state. New South Wales had earlier announced plans to allow its farmers to start growing GE canola. In response, anti-GM groups, 40 state Labor backbenchers and 250 companies petitioned Brumby to keep Victoria's fields GM-free. Gill Rosier, of the Bendigo GE-Free Group (BGEFG), called it "foolish to be throwing away a marketing advantage"--i.e., Victoria's reputation for "clean green" agriculture. Regional Development Minister Jacinta Allan stated on August 22 that she would protect the state's "green image" but now quotes a study that says GM crops could add $115 million to Victoria's economy over the next eight years. But BGEFG cited U.S. experience where production increases were marginal and pesticide effectiveness was short-lived. As a story in The Advertiser noted: "The only winners were the multinational companies such as Bayer and Monsanto, which owned the patents for the GM canola." Meanwhile, a report from Australia's Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) warns that the introduction of GM canola could cost Australian canola farmers more than $143 million with organic farmers "carrying an unjust burden of over $65 million a year." NCF spokeswoman Julie Newman said Bayer Cropscience's own data showed Roundup Ready canola produced 13% less yield in field tests. She warned: "This is about industries making money from farmers, not for farmers."
GM spill spreading through Japan: Japan's decision not to grow GM crops has been undercut by pollution spreading from a factory in Chiba prefecture that extracts oil from GM canola seeds imported from Canada. Keisuke Amagasa of NO!GMO says "GM contamination has already occurred and it is spreading to a much greater degree than one could imagine." The citizen's group No!GMO Campaign surveyed 43 of Japan's 47 prefectures and found GMO pollution had spread to ports, factories and roadways. Research by Prof. Masaharu Kawata of Yokkaichi University discovered that the spilled GM canola has taken root and become perennial as climate change leads to warmer winters. According to NO!GMO, this raises the possibility that "GM pollen can spread year after year."
Is your Christmas tree really green? Three of the most common Christmas trees -- Fraser, Canaan and balsam firs -- are susceptible to pests like Elongate hemlock scale and Cryptomeria scale. Because scales are difficult to control with pesticides, many growers resort to excessive and repeated doses. With sales of Christmas and nursery trees expected to hit $42 million in Pennsylvania, Penn State researchers are working to help growers reduce sprayings and substitute safer chemicals. The University is working with the state's Department of Agriculture to promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies. In Schuylkill County, IPM has reduced pesticide use "by over 50 percent." For tips on handling Christmas tree pests, check out Penn State's Christmas Tree Web site and its Tree Pest Problem Solver.