Lindane on POPs list; WHO confirms DDT phaseout; Bhopal survivors tour US; more...
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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- Lindane one of nine chemicals added to POPs treaty
- WHO reaffirms commitment to phase out DDT
- Bhopali U.S. tour points to MIC at Bayer pesticide plant
- Cancer rates rise with pesticide use in Punjab
- EPA cancels food uses of carbofuran
- EPA rejects 'CheckMate' & registers new moth pesticide
- New evidence linking pesticides, genes & Parkinson's
In a late-night session in Geneva ending a week of heated negotiations, countries of the world agreed to target nine new chemicals for global elimination. Early on the morning of May 9th, the new chemicals joined twelve of the most dangerous and environmentally damaging chemicals ever manufactured already slated for elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Last week's meeting marked the first consideration of new chemicals under the treaty since it entered into force in 2004, and reaching agreement to phase out chemicals still widely used proved difficult, according to NGO observers (PDF). For example, one of the newly listed chemicals is the pesticide lindane, a highly toxic insecticide that persists in the environment. Despite the fact that all uses of lindane have been phased out in 52 countries, a pharmaceutical use exemption was included, allowing some uses to continue for the next five years. “While we’re pleased that production of lindane and its use in agriculture will now end, we’re very disappointed that a loophole was added allowing use of existing stocks of lindane products to treat lice and scabies,” says Karl Tupper, Staff Scientist with Pesticide Action Network North America. “This exemption in essence allows companies to dispose of existing stocks by dumping them on children’s heads.” A broad coalition—including governments from the European Union to Mexico, Arctic Indigenous groups, and NGOs—supported listing lindane without the exemption. The U.S., which had previously insisted on the exemption, announced at the meeting’s opening on Monday that it now supported banning lindane without the exemption. Other new chemicals listed under the treaty include the by-products of lindane production, the agricultural chemical chlordecone, three types of flame retardants, pentachlorobenzene and perfluoroctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).
In September 2006, Arata Kochi, head of the World Health Organization's malaria unit, stunned malaria, health and environmental experts by announcing that DDT had been given a "clean bill of health," and the infamous insecticide would "once again play a major role in [WHO's] efforts to fight [malaria]." In fact, there had been no new evaluation of DDT (WHO is due to release its updated reassessment within a year), and the agency had made only minor adjustments to its official guidelines on DDT use, slightly expanding the list of situations where it recommended DDT. Still, the damage was done: Kochi's strongly worded statement catalyzed the expansion of DDT spray programs, with donors enthusiastically funding projects and a few African countries announcing they were initiating or expanding existing DDT spray programs. Despite a global commitment to eventually phase out DDT under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, its use has been increasing since the Convention entered into force in 2004. With a new announcement by the WHO and UNEP, this trend will likely be turned around. On May 6th, during a meeting of the Stockholm Convention, WHO Director of Public Health and the Environment Maria Neira announced a "rejuvenated international effort" to roll back both malaria and the use of DDT. The collaborative effort with the United Nations Environment Programme will be implemented in 40 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and will roll out Integrated Vector Management strategies that have a proven track record of beating malaria in other parts of the world. The initiative aims for a 30% reduction in DDT use by 2014, and total elimination of DDT by "early 2020s if not sooner." Medha Chandra, campaign coordinator at Pesticide Action Network North America, welcomed the announcement but said it was overdue: "We're encouraged that WHO has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to phasing out DDT, but it's unfortunate that it has taken this long. With more effective, safer alternatives available, it's time everyone must get serious about using them to defeat malaria."
"Sarita Malviya wasn't born when an explosion at a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India, on Dec. 3, 1984, sent a cloud of deadly gas containing the compound methyl isocyanate [MIC] into the old section of the city, searing the lungs and causing the deaths of at least 4,000 people," writes Rick Steelhammer in West Virginia's Charleston Gazette. "When her family moved to Bhopal years after the world's worst industrial disaster, 'we had no idea that Union Carbide left toxic waste in three ponds,'" the 16-year-old told an audience through an interpreter at West Virginia State University on May 1. Sarita is one of four Bhopali activists touring Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness about the dangers of pesticide manufacturing and the ongoing tragedy in Bhopal. The tour is also raising funds for advocacy and to support the Sambhavna Clinic that treats survivors. At 14, "she became a founding member of Children Against Dow/Carbide, an organization trying to force the former chemical giant and the company that bought it to fix lingering environmental problems and fund the study of related public health issues. 'On the night of the Bhopal disaster, 40 tons of MIC was being stored by Union Carbide,'" Sarita told the university students and residents of Institute, WV, where a Bayer plant that produces and stores MIC exploded, again, last year. "'I understand more than 100 tons are being stored...here. I can only imagine what would happen to a community like this if that much MIC was released." Sarita's appearance is part of a 25-city tour taking place on the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, sponsored by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. Next appearances are planned in Toronto (May 16), Chicago (15-19th), Houston and Austin (18-20th), San Francisco Bay Area (23-26), followed by other West Coast cities. To get involved see the complete Bhopal tour schedule.
"Are the modern farming methods brought by the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s and '70s making people sick?," asks NPR's "All Things Considered" reporter Daniel Zwerdling, in a May 11 feature titled, "In Punjab, Crowding Onto the Cancer Train". Starting with the stories of some 60 patients who pack the train arriving each night at a regional government cancer center, Zwerdling examined the links between the rise of cancers, including those afflicting children, and marked increases in the use of synthetic pesticides. "Farmer Jarnail Singh helped spur research into whether the Green Revolution — a movement in the 1960s and '70s to introduce American farming methods such as the use of pesticides, fertilizers and high-yield seeds — has been hurting the public's health. The first clue Singh noticed was that peacocks — India's national bird — disappeared from the fields." The report cites recent research (PDF) into the potential contributions of pesticide use to cancer in India, including high levels of heptachlor, ethion, and chloropyrifos in drinking water.
On May 12, in the latest of several blows to FMC, the U.S. corporation that manufactures and will still market carbofuran around the world, the U.S. EPA confirmed its 2008 ruling that carbofuran residues will no longer be allowed "on domestic or imported food, a decision that would effectively remove the chemical from the U.S. market." Infamous for killing millions of birds worldwide, the acutely toxic insecticide is one of three carbamates recently confirmed as contributing to the decline of salmon in the Pacific Northwest. It is also highly toxic to mammals, including people. A March 29 60 Minutes program was the latest report on how Furadan, FMC's brand of the pesticide, is used illegally by herders to kill lions in Kenya. The new ruling does not prohibit continued manufacture of carbofuran's active ingredient, also called furadan, at Bayer CropScience's Institute, West Virginia plant. Carbofuran is a classic example of the "Circle of Poison," wherein products banned or restricted for use in their country of origin are still exported and may return on imported foods. Carbofuran is common in coffee production in Costa Rica, for example, and on bananas, rice and sugar cane in many developing countries. "The EPA said it soon will issue rules banning other uses of carbofuran because of risks to farm workers and the environment," according to the Associated Press, confirming its intention first announced in July 2008.
U.S. EPA has revoked approval of the two “CheckMate” pesticides that were used in aerial spraying over California Bay Area counties in late 2007, according to Jane Kay, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle. The urban spraying program was launched to “eradicate” the invasive Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM). USDA funded the program, claiming that millions of dollars in damage to agriculture could result if the moth was not stopped. USDA had sought an emergency exemption from EPA to use the pesticides without prior environmental and health impact evaluations and state registration. The spraying was blocked by the courts before the program could be extended beyond Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. In June 2008, after an uprising by residents and pleas from several city governments, Gov. Schwarzenegger put an indefinite hold on urban spraying until safety tests were completed. Instead, USDA is breeding and releasing sterile moths as a way to keep down the LBAM population without pesticides. CheckMate is based on a pheromone that disrupts male moth mating behavior. Another pheromone-based product the state tested in early 2008 is Hercon's Disrupt Bio-Flake. It was registered by EPA in January 2009, after "Tests on animals for acute effects, but not chronic effects, showed no immediate problems.... Hercon must apply for registration in California and undergo an evaluation that could take months. Stephan Volker, an Oakland attorney representing the residents in last year's suit against the EPA, said residents want to know all of the ingredients in any product,” Kay reports. Meanwhile, Pesticide Action Network and other groups have petitioned USDA to reclassify the LBAM as a pest not requiring extraordinary control measures.
"Exposure to commonly used agricultural pesticides may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, particularly among people who have certain gene types," reports Environmental Health News. Summarizing the new research, EHN notes: "The degenerative nerve disease can develop when dopamine levels in the brain are lower than normal. Without pesticide exposures, susceptible gene variants alone were not sufficient to increase risk. The increased risk to Parkinson's required both susceptible genes and pesticide exposure." The full article (PDF) is available from Environmental Health Perspectives.