Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- U.S. phaseout of endosulfan has immediate global impact
- Strawberry showdown: Scientists speak out on methyl iodide
- Former Union Carbide officials jailed, Bhopal survivors outraged
- New rules for pesticides in waterways
This week, EPA announced that the persistent pesticide endosulfan will be eliminated in the United States. The announcement had almost immediate reverberations outside the U.S., with the Australian government committing to reevaluate use of the chemical in light of the U.S. phaseout. Already banned in more than 60 countries around the world, a global ban on endosulfan is currently being pursued under a UN treaty: the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Used primarily on Florida tomatoes and cotton grown in California and Nevada, this antiquated chemical has been linked to autism, birth defects, and delayed puberty in humans. "This decision is a long overdue victory for the farmworkers who work with this poison, the families that live near fields where it’s sprayed, and the Indigenous communities in the Arctic who are exposed to it in their traditional foods,” said Karl Tupper, staff scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America, in the group's press statement. “Our work has finally paid off." PANNA and allies have campaigned to ban endosulfan for years, collecting tens of thousands of signatures on petitions to the EPA, filing legal petitions, submitting detailed comment letters, and challenging the agency’s 2002 decision to reregister endosulfan. According to Tupper, who participates in the Stockholm Convention negotiations, “EPA's announcement takes away one of the most powerful talking points of those few countries that are determined to stop a global ban.” Jayakumar Chelaton, Director of the Indian NGO Thanal, agrees. “We expect that India will be encouraged to act after hearing the decisions of the U.S. EPA to protect health and the environment, since Indian law makers have been referring to U.S. provisions when framing Indian law. This is now the opportunity for all to stay ahead in saving the world and making it toxic free. "
As California appears poised to approve the new pesticide methyl iodide, scientists are speaking out strongly against the state's proposal. As covered by California Public Radio, Dr. John Froines, the chair of the Scientific Review Panel on methyl iodide, said California's proposal is "frightening to a chemist, and therefore, should be to the public, as well." In particular, scientists are appalled at the assumptions the state is making when it comes to controlling risk. The scientists that took part in the formal review of the chemical say that "everyone on the panel was shocked and dismayed" with the California proposal that allows exposure to this chemical at more than 100 times the levels that were found to cause miscarriages during laboratory tests. Methyl iodide is linked to cancer, miscarriages and brain damage, and is prone to drift through theair and contaminate groundwater. Scientist Edward Loechler said, "The number in the notice is 120 times higher than the level that both the independent Scientific Review Panel thought was safe, as well as their own internal experts thought would be safe." At a time when Americans are increasingly wary of corporate and government promises to "manage risk", and especially when alternative methods to grow strawberries and crops exist, the proposal to bring a new, highly toxic pesticide to market despite public outcry and despite the science is unacceptable.
“Seven Indian former employees [of Union Carbide India Ltd. (UCLI)] were sentenced to two years in prison andfined...in a judgement for which activists have campaigned for a quarter of a century," reports Reuters. "Ram Prasad, a 75-year-old villager, said: 'This punishment is not enough. I lost my son, younger brother and my father and I still have nightmares.'" The guilty verdict handed down on June 7 also included the U.S. corporation Union Carbide's Indian unit, UCIL, now owned by Dow Chemical. UCIL and its Indian employees are accused in the 1984 Bhopal pesticide plant disaster that, according to Reuters, "released toxic gases into the air towards nearby slums and the government says around 3,500 people died as a result. Activists say 25,000 died in the immediate aftermath and the years that followed." Bhopal survivors are calling the charges, prosecution, verdict, and sentence a travesty of justice. UCIL's officials were fined only $2,100, while the corporation was fined about $11,000. Their initial charges of culpable homicide were diluted in 1996 to criminal negligence, reducing a potential sentence from ten years to two. “We feel outraged and betrayed. This is not justice,” said Hazra Bee of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. “The paltry sentencing is a slap in the face of suffering Bhopal victims.”
Three foreign accused parties remain charged with culpable homicide but are absconding from justice -- Union Carbide Corporation, former UC head Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Eastern. The Indian Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) has failed to take action to bring them to India to face trial. “Justice will be done in Bhopal only if the individuals and corporations responsible are punished in an exemplary manner,” stated Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, a local survivor group. “Union Carbide's disaster was foreseeable and foreseen and still allowed to happen. The punishment of the corporations and their individual officials must be sufficient to deter other corporations and corporate officials from also acting with such reckless indifference to human life and health.” Bhopal activists further declared that India’s Prime Minister, who is in charge of the CBI, must accept blame for the prosecuting agency's incompetence and mishandling of the case. They called for the creation of a Special Prosecution Cell for effective and timely action on extradition of the foreign accused and for prosecution of Dow Chemical.
EPA has proposed a draft version of new permit requirements that would limit the amount of pesticides discharged into U.S. waterways, affecting an estimated 35,000 pesticide applicators who perform approximately half a million pesticide applications annually. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, as it is called, would require pesticide operators in certain applications to use the lowest effective amount of pesticide, prevent leaks and spills, calibrate equipment and monitor for and report adverse incidents. Permits would be issued for flying insect pest control, aquatic weed and algae control, aquatic nuisance animal control, and forest canopy pest control, but not for discharges into waters already impaired by pesticide contamination, or “outstanding national resource” waters, according to Beyond Pesticides. The new policy comes as a result of the 2009 court ruling in National Cotton Council et al. vs. EPA that categorized pesticide discharges as pollutants that are subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Bush administration policy dictated that pesticides discharged into water were to be regulated under less stringent Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The main difference between the two is that the CWA uses a health-based standard known as maximum contamination levels and requires permits when chemicals are deposited into waterways, while the less-stringent FIFRA regulations use a highly subjective risk assessment, with no consideration for safer alternatives. EPA is accepting public comment on the proposed regulations until July 9, 2010.