July 24, 2008
- EPA sued over endosulfan
- Carbofuran to be cancelled, finally
- Organic blueberries are better
- Boys with breasts stir pesticide-spray fears
- EPA lowers "value of life"
- US Army goes green as IPM boots pesticides
- India rethinks the Green Revolution
- Haagen-Dazs creates a buzz for bees
Today, a broad coalition of farmworker, public health, and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop the continued use of the pesticide endosulfan. The coalition is demanding action from EPA to protect children, farmworkers, and endangered species. Endosulfan is an organochlorine pesticide that is persistent in the environment and poisons humans and wildlife both in agricultural areas and in regions far from where it is applied. “This dangerous and antiquated pesticide should have been off the market years ago,” says Karl Tupper, staff scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “The fact that EPA is still allowing the use of a chemical this harmful shows just how broken our regulatory system is.” Go here for more information, including the legal petition, a full list of co-plaintiffs and press release.
This morning EPA announced a proposal to finally cancel the neurotoxic insecticide carbofuran completely. The Agency concluded "that dietary, worker, and ecological risks are of concern for all uses of carbofuran. All products containing carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and do not meet safety standards, and therefore are ineligible for reregistration." Carbofuran, an N-methyl carbamate, is acutely toxic to humans, and one granule of the product can kill a bird. Of all pesticides currently in use, carbofuran is one of the most highly toxic to birds. EPA’s own estimates conclude that up to two million birds were killed each year by carbofuran before it was banned for all but emergency uses. Trade named Furadan, it is a WWII-era pesticide manufactured by FMC Corporation. When the EPA made its initial cancellation determination in early January 2008, FMC provided the Agency's Scientific Advisory Panel with a flood of last-minute data. NRDC's Senior Scientist Jennifer Sass reported that the panel found most of FMC's filings "inadequate, unconvincing, and highly suspect." One panel member even remarked that FMC's misrepresentation of the data was reason enough to reject the appeal. Today, Kathryn Gilje, PAN's executive Director, stated, "We strongly encourage EPA to move decisively now to cancel the registration entirely."
The latest evidence on the nutritional value of organic fruit comes from a New Jersey study on Bluecrop highbush blueberries. Researchers from the USDA's Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory and Rutgers University tested blueberries grown on five different New Jersey farms that shared the same soil, weather and harvesting conditions. The Scoop from The Organic Center reports that "the team found consistent and significant differences in nutrient content. The organic blueberries contained 46 ORAC units, a measure of total antioxidant capacity, while the conventional berries contained 31 ORAC units." The organic blueberries also showed 50% more antioxidant activity, 67% more phenolics and 50% higher levels of anthocyanins -- the phytochemicals that give blueberries their dark blue hue. The findings, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, concluded: "Blueberries produced from organic culture contained significantly higher amounts of phytonutrients than those produced from conventional culture."
South African health and farming officials are mounting studies to investigate whether pesticide drift has been poisoning the Limpopo farming community of Groblersdal. The Cape Argus reports incidents of "teenage boys temporarily developing breasts during the crop-spraying seasons" from August to November. Exposure to the pesticide endosulfan has been linked to premature puberty. In 2007, Groblersdal physician Johan Minnaar treated numerous patients suffering from facial paralysis, miscarriages, asthma and migraines, and a five-year-old girl with the breasts of a teenager. "When there's a light wind blowing, you can smell the pesticides in town," Minnaar said. He had his family's blood tested and found organophosphates and carbamates. A Department of Agriculture spokesperson said "we're aware of flashpoints such as Groblersdal and Riebeek Kasteel and south of Durban," but Gerhard Verdoorn, an industry consultant, responded: "I'm sick of everyone jumping on the pesticide bandwagon…. [T]o attribute every symptom to pesticide poisoning is rubbish."
While digging through a set of dry U.S. EPA documents, an Associated Press reporter stumbled across the news that the Agency now sets the "value of a statistical life" at $6.9 million, "a drop of nearly $1 million from just five years ago." The new figure could save corporations billions of dollars by permitting a loosening of federal pollution regulations. S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies told the AP: "It appears that they're cooking the books." Dan Esty, a former EPA official who now directs the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy says: "It's hard to imagine that it has other than a political motivation." The EPA doesn't factor in an individual's earning capacity or social contributions but bases its estimates solely on "what people are willing to pay to avoid certain risks." The EPA quietly cut the "life value" by 8 percent in 2004 and, in May, it devalued human worth by another 3 percent when it "took away the normal adjustment for one year's inflation." The latter move was taken in conjunction with "a rule governing train and boat air pollution."
"A can of pesticide in your hand can make you feel like a stud, a hero, the last line of defense for you and your family," says Stars and Stripes, the US military's independent news magazine. But driven by the growing awareness that "pesticides can harm both the environment and human health," the Army Environmental Command has begun to introduce Integrated Pest Management programs at its facilities. Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas solved its mosquito problem by abandoning pesticides and adopting IMP techniques -- including building 24 birdhouses for mosquito-eating Purple Martins. The program, already underway in the states, is now being applied worldwide, with one of the newest programs being activated at schools and youth centers at Camp Zama, a US base located 25 miles from Tokyo. Lt. Col. Sandra Alvey, the Deputy Commander of US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine Pacific, says the change is "economically driven" but "it's also for the occupational health and safety of children and the workers in the workplace." Stars and Stripes reports the goal is to assure that "overseas children are given the same protection from pesticides as those stateside."
US News & World Report notes that, after 40 years, some Indian farmers are "turning their backs on modern agricultural methods -- the use of modified seeds, fertilizer and pesticides -- in favor of organic farming." "The Green Revolution is not as green as it was earlier -- it has become brown and pale," says Punjab University Prof. R. K. Mahajan. USNews estimates that as many as 5 percent of Punjab's farmers have turned to organic farming, citing the rising costs of pesticides and fertilizers, damaged soil and health problems. Renal failure, stillborn babies, birth defects and cancer -- ailments associated with pesticide exposure -- are on the rise in the region. In many villages where cancer was unknown just 10 years ago, USNews reports, residents "now regard it as a menace stalking all of them."
There are many reasons to love honeybees but, if you're an ice-cream-maker, it comes down to a matter of taste. During Congressional hearings in June, California-based Haagen-Dazs warned politicians that, without abundant, thriving pollinators, we wouldn't have strawberry sundaes, raspberry sorbets or scoops of vanilla Swiss almond ice cream. More than 40 percent of the company's flavors come from crops that must be pollinated by bees. Since 2006, populations of honeybees have been in decline. Last year, 36 percent of US bees failed to survive. Among the suspects for the decline of pollinators are loss of habitat, pesticides that disrupt insect neurology, viruses, parasites, and large farm monocultures. Some 46 pesticides were found among 108 pollen samples; 17 were present in a single sample. Crop monocultures offer a single-source diet during bloom followed by starvation. Penn State bee expert Maryann Frazier had this question for members of the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture: "How would our federal government respond if 1 out of every 3 cows was dying?" Haagen Dazs has created a limited edition flavor called Vanilla Honey Bee and hopes to distribute a million bee-friendly flowerseed packets to consumers and community groups to aid native pollinators. The company also has set up a HelpTheHoneybees Web site.