Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
December 4, 2009
- Bhopal 25th anniversary - 'Global Day of No Pesticide Use'
- Siddiqui vote in Senate imminent
- EPA convenes experts on pesticide drift hazards
- Fungicides linked to "superbugs" in humans
- China approves GM rice
- U.S. 'School Environment Protection Act' introduced
- PANUPS moves to Friday
"What’s missing in the whole sad story is any sense of a human connection between the faceless people who run the corporation and the victims," wrote Suketu Mehta in the New York Times Dec. 2 -- the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy: "In 1995, a Bhopali woman named Sajida Bano sent a handwritten letter to Union Carbide. The factory had killed her husband in 1981 in an accident, and then, on the night of the disaster, her 4-year-old son. 'You put your hand on your heart and think,' she wrote, 'if you are a human being: if this happened to you, how would your wife and children feel?' She never received a response."
Dec. 3 is also PAN International's Day of No Pesticides Use, marking the 1984 disaster when more than 500,000 people were exposed to a lethal pesticide gas (methyl isocyanate), released from the Union Carbide factory. The immediate death toll was 3000-5000, but since then over 20,000 people have suffered health complications linked to exposure to the gas, and chronic illnesses are still mounting. Recently, "the BBC took a sample of water from a hand pump in constant use just north of the plant and had it tested in the UK," the network reported Dec. 2. "It contained nearly 1,000 times the World Health Organization's recommended maximum amount of carbon tetrachloride, a pollutant known to cause cancer and liver damage."
As the 25th anniversary approached, in a bizarre attempt to demonstrate that the site of the rusting pesticide plant is no longer toxic, the Madyar Pradesh state agency responsible for Bhopal's clean-up announced it was opening the factory to tourists. Outrage erupted from Bhopal to London to Michigan, home of Dow Chemical, who bought Union Carbide in 1999, and last week the agency backtracked. "The announcement to open the factory was simply a ploy to divert attention from the real issues confronting the victims.... it was a diversion for the national and the international media from actual issues," said Abdul Jabbar, a local Bhopal activist.
This Dec. 3, PAN Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), collaborated with 17 partner organizations in eight countries on events that called for effective international action towards the elimination of highly hazardous pesticides. La Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y sus Alternativas de América Latina (RAP-AL, PAN Latin America) convened teach-ins and workshops at the agronomy school of the University of Buenos Aires. PAN Germany marked the day with the publication of a new study, "Environmental strategies to replace DDT and control malaria" (PDF), calling on politicians and agencies that finance malaria control programmes to promote pesticide-free measures to a greater extent. In San Francisco’s Union Square, a die-in was staged; in Bloomington, Indiana, the city council resolved to examine local toxics problems in commemoration of Bhopal.
In Boston, Gary Cohen, co-founder of Health Care Without Harm, reflected: "Over the last twenty-five years, the Bhopal survivors’ plight and our own have become much more intertwined. We have all become united in a global web of chemical poisons. We have all been “branded” by the chemical industry, their signature chemicals coursing through our veins and building up in our fat tissue and other organs, whether we live in Bhopal or Baton Rouge."
The Senate will likely vote this week on whether or not to confirm Obama’s nomination of CropLife Vice President, Islam Siddiqui, to the position of Chief Agriculture Negotiator for the U.S. Trade Office. Pesticide and genetically-modified seed industry allies had hoped he would be confirmed quickly enough for Siddiqui to lead the U.S. delegation to this week’s WTO meetings in Geneva. But with unprecedented media coverage and public attention focused on Siddiqui as a textbook case of the “revolving door” between agribusiness and government, the Senate Finance Committee vote on Siddiqui stalled last week and the week before. As all eyes shift towards the global climate talks in Copenhagen, and with another failed round of trade talks at the latest WTO, observers note that U.S. credibility in promoting sustainable solutions to climate change is at risk. PAN Senior Scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman explains, “Siddiqui’s confirmation would tell the world that the U.S. continues to value the interests of our chemical and GMO seed industry over any serious concern for stabilizing climate, protecting the planet’s ecosystems or defending the health of farmers, farmworkers and future generations. At this critical political moment, we need a chief ag negotiator who understands that current trade agreements don’t work.”
Arlington, VA. After years of denying that people who live in agricultural areas are exposed to pesticides in the air, this week the U.S. EPA brought together experts to examine the dangers of pesticides that drift off of farms for days after the chemicals are applied. “We are encouraged that EPA’s Scientific Advisory Panel is finally beginning to evaluate the impacts of volatilization drift on agricultural communities,” said Dr. Susan Kegley, consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network. Volatization drift -- distinct from spray drift, which occurs when pesticides drift off target during application -- occurs when pesticides vaporize and drift to adjacent areas, even weeks after applications. PAN has used its Drift Catcher device for the last six years to work with communities to document drift and make the case that the illnesses and damage caused by drift can no longer be ignored.
“In addition to the health problems, there can be economic damages to farms when these pesticides deposit on organically grown crops, making them illegal for sale on the organic market,” says Larry Jacobs, who co-founded Jacobs Farm in California and Del Cabo Cooperative in Mexico with the goal of producing food in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. “Because of volatilization of organophosphate pesticides, I experienced significant economic loss in my 2006 and 2007 harvests of rosemary, sage, and dill.” A jury subsequently awarded Jacobs a $1 million verdict as compensation for his losses, although the case is currently under appeal. In addition to Jacobs and Kegley, others who testified at the EPA scientific meeting included Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of Oregon Toxics Alliance, Carol Dansereau, Executive Director of Farm Worker Pesticide Project in Washington State, and Jennifer Sass, Senior Scientist with Natural Resources Defense Council. “U.S. EPA should take the lead in creating the necessary scientific tools to protect residents in farming areas,” concluded Kegley. “The agency should take protective action as soon as possible, even while the scientific details are being reviewed.”
The deadly and drug-resistant E. coli O 157:H7 is one example of well-documented phenomena: overuse of antibiotics in industrial livestock production leads to the evolution of drug-resistant “superbugs.” In an unsettling parallel, scientists recently linked the use of fungicides on plants to the rise of drug-resistant fungal infections in humans. Specifically, Dutch scientists report in the December issue of Lancet Infectious Diseases that the widespread use of azole fungicides by European farmers may be to blame for drug resistant Aspergillus fumigatus infections on the continent. A. fumigatus is a common soil fungus that is pervasive in the environment -- the average person inhales hundreds of spores every day. While normally harmless, it can cause life-threatening infections in people with compromised immune systems, like AIDS and leukemia patients. Doctors rely on azole-based drugs to treat these infections, which are similar to the azole-based fungicides used extensively on European grain and grape crops. Despite this, the possibility of fungicide resistance translating to drug resistance had recently been dismissed as unlikely by European Union regulators, according to Science. Now the issue cannot be ignored, though the study’s lead author Paul Verweij says that he’s been talking to fungicide producers and “they aren't very keen on studying this further.”
After several years of delays, Chinese authorities have approved strains of genetically modified (GM) rice and corn for trial planting. According to Reuters , this means the crops could be in commercial production within a few years. The decision comes despite concerns about contamination from EU countries that prohibit GM imports. China grows 31 percent of the world’s rice, nearly 60 million tons of rice every year, but consumes most of it domestically, exporting about 50,000 tons a month. Although China already permits GM papaya, cotton and tomatoes, this would be the first grain crops approved in the country and the second in Asia. The only Asian country currently growing a GM grain is the Phillipines, which grows GM maize. The Bt rice strain that was approved is similar to genetically engineered soy and corn currently grown in the U.S. Behind the scenes, Syngenta and Monsanto are tightening their relationships with the Chinese research institutions that are pushing GM rice forward. Just a month before the GM rice was approved, Monsanto opened a new research center in Beijing, according to Truth About Trade and Technology. Syngenta is already working on stacking the Bt trait with another proprietary technology: herbicide resistance. A recent report by the Center for Food Safety, The Organic Center, and the Union for Concerned Scientists found that since 1996 the introduction of GM crops in U.S. agriculture (the majority of which are herbicide-resistant) has been correlated with substantial overall increases in pesticide use. GM seeds have been marketed on the claim that Bt or pest-resistant GM crops result in reduced insecticide use; but these decreases have been more than offset by increased herbicide use for herbicide-resistant GM crops, which drove a net increase of 318 million pounds of pesticides between 1996 and 2008 alone.
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