Endosulfan is a DDT-era insecticide that persists in the environment and in our bodies. EPA data show that all of us are routinely exposed to small amounts of endosulfan in the food we eat, with young children receiving the largest doses. Studies of popluations exposed to endosulfan have been published suggesting that endosulfan can increase the risk of autism, delay puberty in boys, and cause birth defects of the male reproductive system.
Endosulfan attacks the central nervous system, causing overstimulation and a range of health harms. Acute exposure to endosulfan causes headaches, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and death. The EPA classifies endosulfan in its most extreme toxicity category (highly acutely toxic) because relatively small doses prove lethal in labratory studies.
Endosulfan related deaths and debilitation are common is the developing world, where endosulfan is cheap but personal protective equipment is expensive or even impossible to obtain. Examples include thirty-seven farmers dying in Benin, two boys dead in South Africa, flower workers poisoned in Colombia, and villagers in Philippines and India poisoned by the toxic pesticide.
At lower doses, endosulfan impacts on human health are long-lasting:
Research shows that pre-natal exposure to endosulfan could elevate risk for autism in children. Children exposed in the womb during the first trimester of pregnancy were more likely to develop autism, a recent study showed. The study, which focused on several organochlorines pesticides including endosulfan, also revealed that autism incidence in children increased with poundage of pesticides and decreased with distance from application areas. This 2007 Los Angeles Times article explains some of the study's findings.
Like DDT, endosulfan is an organochlorine, an antiquated class of pesticides known for their persistence, toxicity, mobility, and ability to accumulate in organisms and concentrate in food chains. Endosulfan's chemical characteristics and behavior in the environment make it a "persistent organic pollutant," eligible for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention.
Endosulfan is pervasive in the global atmosphere and more abundant than other organochlorines. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program's Arctic Pollution 2009 assessment reports that endosulfan is also present in remote regions, and unlike other legacy pesticides whose concentrations are declining, endosufan concentrations have remained stable.
Levels of endosulfan in the environment can be lethal to certain organisms, especially fish and amphibians. Waterways near application sites are particularly threatened—for example, the EPA has estimated that after a typical endosulfan application to tomatoes, concentrations of endosulfan downstream can be up to 28 times higher than the level that is fatal to the average freshwater fish. Once released into the environment these residues take years to degrade, traveling many miles in the meanwhile.
US EPA determined in 2010 that endosulfan could not be used safely, and announced that it was phasing out all uses of the chemical in the US by 2016. Brazil and several other countries followed suit, announcing phase out plans for the chemical.
On the international front, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants agreed in April 2011 that endosulfan should be added to the list of chemicals banned globally under the treaty.
In June of 2011, endosulfan was also added to another international treaty, the Rotterdam Convention, which requires government-to-government notification when dangerous pesticides and other chemicals cross international borders.
Research & Factsheets
Additional Human Health Studies:
Additional Non-Human Health Studies: Reproductive & Developmental Toxicity
Additional Health Studies: Possible Carcinogenic Effects: