Another cluster of endosulfan-induced illness in India | Pesticide Action Network
Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Another cluster of endosulfan-induced illness in India

Karl Tupper's picture

The suffering caused by years of endosulfan use on cashew plantations in Kerala's Kasaragod district is well known: birth defects, high rates of mental retardation, and delayed puberty, in addition to the hundreds of deaths directly attributed to the antiquated insecticide. Now, the Indian press is reporting another cluster of endosulfan-induced disease a couple hundred miles away in Muthalamada district, also part of the state of Kerala.

So far 46 "suspected endosulfan victims" have been officially identified, but NGOs working in the area say there are hundreds more. The situation is eerily similar to that in Kasaragod, with large numbers of hydrocephalic children. According to one article:

Researchers found members of 174 families had serious health problems. Many children were found suffering from birth deformities, cancer, cerebral palsy, mental disorders, skin diseases, vision loss; many women were found infertile. The recent government survey also mentions the same disorders, but admits lower incidence.

In Muthalamada the insecticide is used on Mango trees and is sprayed by hand rather than by helicopter, as was the case in Kasaragod. Despite a statewide ban on endosulfan, its use continues since authorities have been unable to curtail smuggling from neighboring states.

But this may soon change. Pressure continues to mount within India for national ban, and in April the 173 countries that are parties to the Stockholm Convention will meet to decide on whether to impose a global ban. Hopefully the suffering in Kasaragod and Muthalamada will catalyze the action that is so desperately needed on endosulfan.

Karl Tupper
Share this post: 


sridharpillay's picture
sridharpillay /

I understand that pesticides have to be poisonous as it is meant to kill pests. But doesn't that mean that we should use them with all possible precautions to prove a boon to mankind. Endosulfan has been used for decades but we have not heard anything wrong about it from any other parts of India. Why only Kerala?

I have my farm in South India. We too use endosulfan on our farms but we have never encountered any such mishaps. If Endosulfan is banned what is the guarantee that other alternatives wouldn't cause any problems. After all they too are chemicals used with a sole motive of killing pests.
As an end user I would not suggest the ban on Endosulfan as it is cost effective as well as effective on farms if used with proper precautions.

Karl Tupper's picture
Karl Tupper /

Thanks for your comment. Endosulfan has already been banned in more than 70 countries around the world, including countries very similar to India in terms of climate, agricultural practices, and socioeconomic status. And it's been banned in areas within India itself (i.e. Kerala state) for some time. This suggests that Indian agriculture could make due without it.

On the other hand endosulfan's harms are manifold. It's not just these pockets in Kerala where endosulfan has caused such problems. Endosulfan has taken hundreds of lives in Africa (before being banned by many countries there), Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. Even in the US, where farmers have much better access to personal protective equipment and safety training than in India, endosulfan has caused many injuries, a few of them fatal. Indeed the EPA is phasing out endosulfan here in the US because of risks to end uses (as well as environmental risks).

Endosulfan has done enough harm already. India shouldn't wait until this poison starts harming people outside of Kerala, too. It should act now to prevent such harm. (And I suspect it already is killing outside of Kerala, it's just not being reported or identified as such.)

sridharpillay's picture
sridharpillay /

But most of these 70 countries are not even agrarian economies. And many of them have not even banned them. They seem to have put a regulation for stopping the usage of Endosulfan out of pressure created by the Europian Union.

If Endosulfan has caused so much of problems why has the USEPA approved to use it as a ear plug for lactating cattles and beefs. Moroever, the whole of India has been using it for so many years. There have been no such cases from any part of India other than Kerala.

I see a clear trade interest of Europian Union in banning Endosulfan. Otherwise, Why after manufacturing, using and trading endosulfan for 55 years, they now realise it to be hazardous to health??

Karl Tupper's picture
Karl Tupper /

Sridhar, you are playing fast loose with the facts. Many of the 70+ countries to have banned endosulfan are huge agricultural producers: Brazil, the US, Australia, the EU, etc. Other countries, which due to their small size aren't huge exporters but nonetheless have significant portions of their populations engaged in ag have also banned it: Sri Lanka, Thailand, many West African countries, etc. Besides India, Argentina and China are the only major agricultural producers that are still using endosulfan, and neither of these countries objected to the proposal to list endosulfan in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention. The USEPA just announced that it is phasing out all uses of endosulfan including its use in cattle ear tags, i.e. it's reversing its 2006 decision to allow the use of endusulfan in ear tags. And with regard to the situation in India: it's not just the state of Kerala where endosulfan-related deaths have been reported but also Karnataka, as I stated in my previous comment. And these are just the cases that have made it into the media--surely there are others.

But what troubles me the most about your logic is the implication that India should wait until more people die before taking action.

Finally, I don't see a "trade interest" motivating the EU in seeking a global ban on endosulfan; instead I see a human interest. The EU allowed endosulfan to be used within its borders until scientific evidence accumulated showing that it was harming human health and the environment. So they banned it. Now, in the interest of protecting people around the world, they have proposed a global ban under the Stockholm Convention. These are the motives I see. Also note that until recently, Bayer--an EU-based company--was a major supplier of endosulfan both in Europe and around the world. So EU actions to ban endosulfan hurt EU-based companies too.

Karl Tupper's picture
Karl Tupper /

I speculated in my previous reply that endosulfan-induced misery was probably not confined to just Kerala state. An article in the January issue of Down to Earth (url: confirms it, reporting on similar conditions in the state of Karnataka. Here too it was sprayed in cashew plantations.

"Like Kerala’s Kasaragod, neighbouring Dakshina Kannada is bearing the brunt of spraying of endosulfan. While Kasaragod grabbed media spotlight and Kerala banned the pesticide, victims in Karnataka are still struggling for recognition."

sridharpillay's picture
sridharpillay /

- Endosulfan was used for 5 decades by America, Germre any deaths reported out of these countries?

- Withdrawal out of USA is a result of a commercial decision taken by the only registrant of Endosulfan Makteshim Agan North America. USEPA needs all pesticide manufacturers to undertake new studies to study endocrine disrupting aspects of any agro chemical that will be used inside USA. The new study would cost over 6 million over few years and under the mounting pressure from the European Commission

- In the current circumstances, EC has proposed endosulfan as a POP and at UNEP forums the EU has steered working groups, violated the rules, jumped procedures to drag endosulfan from annexure to annexure - inspite of data gaps and lacking any scientific certainity - MANA only registrant is USA for endosulfan would certainly be unwilling to invest in further studies related to health and effects on Endosulfan in the present situation. There was a commercial motive to MANA's decision to avoid further study and merely settle for a 'VOLUNTARY PHASE OUT' - hence there was no ban in USA. The fact still is that Endosulfan is continued to be used inside USA as we discuss this matter.

- It is important that already there has been millions of dollars spent in understanding the health related aspects of Endosulfan, there has been enough evidence across the world as Endosulfan is used by millions of farmers effectively and in very safely for over 55 years.

- In 2006, WHO/FAO in their joint meeting have studied and certitified Endosulfan to be safe and not cause cancer, not cause gene mutation, cause birth defect.

- There are millions of users of Endosulfan - not one death in any user countries, It has been used across 60 percent of the world's agricultural land.

- Why now? after 55 years suddenly, there is reports of death and devastation but no evidences to prove it. Even the artic studies, or the model projecting the drift of endosulfan are not good enough as these are projection and not sound science or valid facts. The UNEP forums such as Stockholm Convention has been discussing long range transport of endosulfan however, they have ignored that half life of Endosulfan in less than 20 days.. the convention has failed to look at the short range transport - from the user countries that are closer to the artic such as Canada. The UNEP forums have conveniently focused on use of tropical countries and ignored that the transport is possible from other source.

- eNGos consistent demand for a ban on Endosulfan has resulted the governments into loss of time in studying endosulfan which has already been studied and verified by Central Insecticide Board of India for its safe use in India farms.

- eNGOs can effectively use their time to push media and authorities for checking the real reason for the suffering amongst people of Kasargod, kerala. There has been no demand for checking the cause of the ailments that are found in the few villages inside Kerala.
Over 8 years 6 committees have investigated and have returned with no link between the ailments and the endosulfan - in fact Endosulfan was used insignificantly in Kerala. Not a single study that is being done was pointing towards the used of Endosulfan. There is a need to check the cause rather than make convenient conclusion that are not plausible.

- Human rights are violated by eNGOs who have misused the sufferings by merely linking it to endosulfan - understanding that the eNGOs are conducting only random surveys and all cases of cancer, birth defects or any gene mutation cannot be linked to Endosulfan by mere survey.

- The eNGOs do not have any logical explainations as to how can the rest of India be healthy while using Endosulfan for over 30 years.

- There has been a complete apathy at the European Conventions to understand the users and their local circumstances - Indian farmers. Multi lateral environmental agreements are misused now to steer the trade and business interest of the european agro chemical industry. There are more damaging chemicals used in many parts of the world...there are no nominations for a ban on them inside the UNEP forums at Geneva - why? they are all holding patents. Why should an Indian farmer give up his right to choose?

- It is surprising that all the dirty dozen listed are generics? so is it that the European Commission is wanting to send a message to the world that all generics are "fuddy duddy" molecules and they need a ban as they are unethical? Conventions are ensuring in a 'magical way' to an entry of new patented chemicals which European manufacturing have a bet on. It would not be easy to get a generic and widely used crop protection with a new patented molecule which is also 10 times costlier and not as effective.

- EU's ethical movement to ensure human interest is not clear as they EU continues to be the largest user of pesticides even thought it holds just 8% of the world's agricultural land.

Karl Tupper's picture
Karl Tupper /

Mr Pillay,

Almost everything in this latest post of yours either wrong, a distortion of the facts, or an outright fabrication. I'm not going to give a point by point rebuttal since I don't have all day and I doubt you'll be swayed, but let me address your first few points:

"Endosulfan was used for 5 decades by America, Germre any deaths reported out of these countries?" Endosulfan was never used as extensively in the US or Europe as it current is used in India, and comprehensive records of pesticide-induced illness and death where not kept until relatively recently. Still, many deaths from endosulfan have been recorded in the US and Europe. See and for some examples of case reports. Another important difference between India and the US/EU is conditions of use. In the US and EU endosulfan is/was highly regulated and could only be used by licensed applicators who were required to use (and had access to) personal
protective equipment. In contrast, in India (outside of Kerala) endosulfan can be bought from neighborhood shops by anyone and its use is virtually unregulated. Also most users do not have access to or cannot afford PPE.

"Withdrawal out of USA is a result of a commercial decision taken by the only registrant of Endosulfan Makteshim Agan North America...." Not really. EPA decided that it was "terminating" all endosulfan uses because of risks to farmworkers and the environment. They gave MANA the option of "voluntarily" withdrawing it or facing cancellation proceedings. MANA chose the former.

"In the current circumstances, EC has proposed endosulfan as a POP and at UNEP forums the EU has steered working groups, violated the rules, jumped procedures..." No not really. Other than India and a few endosulfan manufactures, no one thinks there have been procedural irregularities in the Stockholm Convention proceedings on endosulfan. UNEP legal advisers have consistently ruled that India's complaints on these matters are baseless, and their arguments have not received any support from other governments. Likewise, the COP has not taken up any of India's objections or found any fault in the proceedings on endosulfan. What's really happening is this: the Indian government and endosulfan manufactures know they can't win on the facts or the science, so they have resorted to inventing baseless procedural complaints.


EnglandJulianne's picture
EnglandJulianne /

What a great article, I do hope that the conclusion that you have ended up this story with would become true and everything is going to be changed for good in the nearest future. Thank you for such educational and informative post that you have provided in here, that was fantastic to read!

Julianne England, family tree maker