Endosulfan in Philippines ferry; Vikane reevaluation; Food crisis & family farms; Towns go organic; and more...

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July 3, 2008

Shipping disaster in Philippines exposes endosulfan hazard

Endosulfan Ferry DisasterRescue and salvage efforts were halted on June 27 at the site of the fatal Princess of the Stars ferry disaster in the Philippines after it was learned that the capsized ship contained 20,000 lbs of endosulfan, a highly toxic antiquated insecticide that PAN has been campaigning to ban for years. The latest plan is to refloat the seven-story ferry which capsized in a typhoon on June 21, which will delay recovery of hundreds of bodies and a van containing the pesticide by at least two months. PAN Philippines president and University of Philippines toxicologist Dr. Romeo Quijano warned of disaster should the endosulfan leak into the water, and the government has banned the consumption of seafood caught in the area. The endocrine disrupting pesticide, which was being transported illegally aboard a passenger vessel, was destined for Del Monte pineapple plantations. Del Monte and Dole have been “temporarily” exempted from the country’s ban on the chemical. Filipino congressman Rafael Mariano blasted the Department of Agriculture’s special treatment of the corporations saying: “It’s high time for Congress to remove all exemptions granted by the government to multi-nationals. It is the responsibility of these agro-corporations to look for an alternative that is not hazardous and highly toxic,” and even the chairman of the Agriculture Committee in the House of Representatives, Abraham Kahlil Mitra, supports ending the exemption saying, “Let’s ban it”. Endosulfan is currently banned in the European Union and other countries, and a global phaseout is being considered under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. On July 3, 50 NGOs from Philippines demanded that endosulfan be banned without exemptions.

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New Zealand declines to phase out endosulfan

New Zealand’s Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has issued a draft decision allowing the continued use of endosulfan on many food crops and on turf. While the proposal does prohibit home and garden use, aerial spraying, and certain airblast applications of the endocrine disrupting pesticide, it still allows the neurotoxic insecticide to be used on athletic fields used by children and others. “This is an unbelievable proposal from ERMA” said Dr. Meriel Watts, coordinator of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Aotearoa/NZ. “It flies in the face of most of the rest of the world. Whilst country after country are announcing bans – now up to 55 countries – ERMA is suggesting we just keep right on using this extremely toxic pesticide. New Zealand was the last country to stop manufacturing 2,4,5-T. It looks like ERMA wants us to be the last one using endosulfan too.”

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Vikane to be reevaluated for structural fumigation

California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has initiated a reevaluation of sulfuryl flouride, a highly toxic fumigant pesticide used widely for treating homes and other structures for termites. Dow's Vikane is the best known brand of sulfuryl flouride; other products to be reassessed are Drexel's Master Fume and Zythor from Ensystex. "Based on the current exposure assessment, it appears that worker, bystander, and residential exposure cannot be mitigated using currently known mitigation strategies," DPR announced. Symptoms of exposure to sulfuryl flouride include stinging eyes as well as nose, throat, and lung irritation. Exposure can cause fluid to collect in the lungs, a complication that can lead to serious respiratory illness. Other effects include nausea and vomiting, as well as neurological symptoms such as slurred speech, slowed gait, weakness, irritability, numbness, tremors, and seizures. Chronic neurotoxic effects observed in fumigant applicators include tremors, inability to concentrate, and reduction in cognitive skills. Comments on DPR's announcement are open until July 27.
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Via Campesina calls for food crisis solutions that bolster family farms

International Conference on Peasant Rights"La Via Campesina, which represents millions of small-scale farmers around the world, gathered in Indonesia's capital for a five-day international conference on the rights of agricultural producers. 'The solution to the global food crisis is to strengthen the domestic market and the capacity of family farmers to produce food for their own needs,'" the movement's Paul Nicholson told reporters, according to wire service AFP. On June 24, Via Campesina concluded its meeting with a call for the UN to hold a Convention on Peasants' Rights on December 10, 2009, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "We peasants, women and men, landless people, agricultural workers, small –and medium-scale farmers, indigenous people and rural youth, represent almost half of the world population and are the backbone of the food systems. The food crisis shows us the massive and systematic violations of peasant rights."


California continues to exceed pesticide air pollutants limits

The state of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) recently closed the period for public comments on the 2005-2006 inventory of Volatile Organic Chemical (VOC) pesticides. The inventory shows that several areas of California are still not in compliance with the Clean Air Act State Implementation Plan for pesticides that required a 20 percent reduction in pesticide VOCs between 1991 and 2008. Fumigant pesticides account for most of the VOCs in the Ventura air basin, and court-ordered reductions are now being implemented during the 2008 ozone season from May to October. In the San Joaquin Valley, non-fumigant pesticides such as the insecticide chlorpyrifos, the rice herbicides molinate and thiobencarb, and the general use herbicide trifluralin are the biggest non-fumigant contributors to VOCs. In 2006, DPR asked pesticide manufacturers to reformulate their products to reduce VOCs, but has pulled back on that request and decided to focus efforts solely on fumigant pesticides instead. At a July 1, 2008 meeting with pesticide reform groups, DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam indicated that they are currently working on developing solutions to the non-fumigant VOC problem, but are only just beginning that work. VOCs break down in the atmosphere to form ozone, a criteria air pollutant known for its ability to cause and exacerbate asthma.

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Caribbean islands to fight pesticides

Bananas at a local marketGuadeloupe and Martinique will soon receive millions of dollars from the French government "to monitor and help eliminate high levels of pesticide on the Caribbean islands." The French government announced plans to provide $51 million over the next three years to impose stricter limits on the amount of kepone (also known as chlordecone) used on bananas -- one of the islands' major exports -- and other crops. The funds would also be used to equip laboratories to test for presence of kepone. Concerns over the pesticide arose in 2007, when a suggested the chemical might be linked to increased cancer rates in both islands. Guadeloupe has instituted a five-year ban on fishing in rivers found to contain high levels of kepone and other pesticides. In the meantime, France's health minister has warned residents to watch what they eat and drink. Health officials also plan to encourage islanders to grow their own gardens and avoid using harmful chemicals. Kepone was the pesticide spilled into the James River in Virginia in the mid-1970s just above the Chesapeake Bay. The fishing industry lost millions of dollars and the area wasn’t reopened to fishing until 1988. Kepone, a PAN Bad Actor Pesticide, is no longer registered for use in the U.S. and it is banned or restricted in at least 11 other countries.

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Ontario mulls alternatives to lawn pesticides

In 2009, Ontario plans to ban more than 300 "cosmetic pesticides" used on lawns, parks and public landscapes. As a result, biopesticides (which can be either chemicals or organisms) are becoming increasingly available in Ontario. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that "the ban is expected to include chemicals used by many gardeners to kill the chafer beetle grub." These grubs not only attack grass roots, they also attract skunks that paw open lawns in search of the succulent grubs. "People are going to have to learn new techniques," says Mark MacKenzie of Appleseed Organic Lawn Care in Ottawa. Fortunately, he adds "there are excellent organic methods out there," including the nematodes he has used as a biopesticide against chafer beetle grubs for the past 10 years. "They're microscopic worms, and once they infest the [grub's] body, they will inject bacteria [that will] kill the grub." MacKenzie says the bacteria are harmless to humans, pets and skunks. Kept dormant in cold storage, the worms are revived by exposure to water when sprayed onto lawns. One application costs about $80. MacKenzie also recommends never cutting grass shorter than three inches -- this will promote deep root growth that reduces grub damage.

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New Paltz, NY goes organic

Public spaces in New Paltz, a rural community 90 miles north of New York City, are going organic, reports the local Times Herald Record. While elimination of the use of synthetic chemicals by law must be limited to Village property, Alice Andrews, an environmental commission member and the organizer of a task force on organics that advocated the measure, "hopes that residents will follow suit and stop treating their lawns with inorganic chemicals". Andrews and other residents would have preferred legislation banning or severely restricting pesticide use for all properties in the jurisdiction, but as in most other states, pesticide pre-emption law prohibits the Village from regulating pesticides beyond its own property. "'What we've decided is to try every other angle, especially education,'" Andrews said. The task force made posters asking residents to sign a petition on myspace.com advocating that Ulster County ban pesticides. She wants the New Paltz Website to provide pesticide education, aiming for "'social pressure' to 'do what formal legislation can't.'" The New Paltz action is similar to reforms spreading in towns and cities across North America, from San Francisco's pioneering 1996 IPM program to Maine's defeat of pre-emption last year, and the even more rapid adoption of cosmetic pesticide bans from British Columbia to Nova Scotia in Canada.

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