POPs loopholes; China phases out DDT; Home pesticides; Owls on duty; more...

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.

May 21, 2009

 

POPs exemption loopholes must be closed

lindaneEnvironmentalists are "raising concerns about the exemptions for lindane" and four of the other nine new chemicals recently listed for elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), reports Inside EPA. The Center for International Environmental Law says the exemptions could "undercut the treaty's goals of protecting human health and the environment from POPs." Karl Tupper, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network, participated in the fourth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Stockholm Convention in Geneva and is concerned about the precedent that could be set for future additions to the treaty. He says the governments at the COP meeting "took the easy way out by allowing the exemptions" and that "the power of the treaty to drive the move away from POPs could be compromised with too many loopholes for chemicals still in use or posing disposal problems." The pesticide lindane, for example, is now listed for global elimination, but existing stocks can be used for the next five years in lice and scabies pharmaceutical products -- with a possibility that the exemption could be extended. "Ending the production and agricultural use of lindane is a huge victory," Tupper says. "But now we must close the loophole for pharmaceutical use, and a first step is to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to deregister it." In a reversal from its previous stance, the U.S. did not support the exemption for pharmaceutical uses of lindane at the Geneva meeting.

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China phasing out POPs pesticides, including DDT

On May 18, China's vice minister of environmental protection, Zhang Lijun, announced in Beijing that the country "has phased out all pesticides containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) ... as required by the Stockholm Convention," reports China Daily. Zhang declared that “the production, sale, use, import and export of [the pesticides] chlordane, mirex and DDT… have been banned in China from May 17.” With funding from the UN Development Program and World Bank, China has started to introduce alternatives to these pesticides, including termite treatments, he added. “We welcome this step by China to drop the exemptions they had earlier requested from the Convention for these pesticides,” said Pesticide Action Network campaigner Dr. Medha Chandra. “Still, though China reports it stopped exporting DDT for pesticide use in 2005, it continues to use DDT in producing the acutely toxic insecticide dicofol. We hope they phase out dicofol. In the meanwhile we’d like to see evidence that the dicofol thus far produced has no DDT content as per the POPs treaty rules for dicofol produced in a close-loop system that would ensure that DDT does not contaminate the dicofol produced.” Unlike the U.S., which has yet to ratify the Convention, China was among the first to ratify in 2004.

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UNEP head urges chemical industry to clean up stockpiles

Pesticide drimOn May 14, the UN’s top environmental official, Achim Steiner, “challenged the chemical industry to clean up stockpiles of its old, toxic products,” reports Chemical & Engineering News. Speaking to the International Council of Chemical Associations in Geneva, “Steiner said manufacturers need to take charge of their past by ridding the world of large inventories of obsolete chemicals, especially pesticides. Hundreds of tons of no longer produced compounds, many of which pose known health risks, are stockpiled in developing countries, especially in Africa. These nations have little or no infrastructure for disposing of them.” He also urged companies “to recommend chemicals for global phaseout [under the Stockholm Convention], and to contribute money to UN projects designed to make the management of chemicals safer in developing countries.” Not surprisingly, his remarks provoked industry executives present to point to voluntary initiatives their companies are taking already. They also noted the high costs of such stewardship and some cited liability concerns. "But if the industry leadership were to seriously accept responsibility for obsolete stockpiles," Steiner responded, they would "find a way to make things happen." Pesticide Action Network, particularly PAN Africa and PAN UK, working with UN institutions as well as industry over the last decade to solve the stockpile problem, have "insisted from the beginning that any large-scale removal has to be accompanied by activities and strategies that will prevent re-accumulation of stockpiles."

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New evidence of pesticide residues in homes

Insecticides, along with lead and allergens, have shown up in a nationally-representative sample of homes. The research, published May 6 in Environmental Science and Technology, was conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in collaboration with the U.S. EPA. Hard surface floor wipes were collected between June 2005 and March 2006 from 500 randomly selected homes. "Samples were analyzed for a suite of 24 compounds which included insecticides in the organochlorine, organophosphate, pyrethroid and phenylpyrazole classes, and the insecticide synergist piperonyl butoxide. The most commonly detected were permethrin (89%), chlorpyrifos (78%), chlordane (64%), piperonyl butoxide (52%), cypermethrin (46%), and fipronil (40%)." While concentrations of the chemicals varied widely, "results show that most floors in occupied homes in the U.S. have measurable levels of insecticides that may serve as sources of exposure to occupants." Chlorpyrifos (PDF) was widely used in homes as a residential insecticide (under the trade name Dorsban) through 2005 when its phaseout for those uses was completed -- the result of a U.S. EPA decision based primarily on its hazards for children." Chlorpyrifos remains heavily used in agriculture.

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Middle East replacing pesticides with owls

Owl Catching MouseAn Israeli drive to reduce the use of toxic pesticides has been turned into a government-funded national program to employ owls and kestrels for agricultural pest control, reports the BBC. Barn Owls are gaining popularity for natural rodent control in neighboring countries and around the world. BirdLife International says that “hundreds of birds of prey -- including many endangered species -- have been killed in Israel through eating rodents containing poisonous ‘rodenticides’ sprayed on crop fields. Scientists in the Middle East are now working with farmers to combat this problem by deploying birds as natural pest controllers. "’There is a real need to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture here,’ said Motti Charter, a researcher from Tel Aviv University and team leader of the Global Owl Project in Israel. ‘We have been reaching out to the farmers, to encourage them to reduce their use of rodenticides and install nest boxes instead.’” The program, begun in a kibbutz in 1983, now counts more than 1,000 Barn Owl nests, and has expanded to include boxes for the Common Kestrel. "’Kestrels hunt during the day and barn owls at night,’ said Dr. Charter. ‘This constant 24-hour threat of predation has caused changes in the pests' behavior, resulting in less crop damage.’” The raptors are removing an estimated 80,000 rodents each year from the Bet-She'an Valley's farm fields. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have joined the program, the World Owl Trust’s Tony Warburton told the BBC. ‘So the project is really bringing people together.’”

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National Geographic on the food crisis

"'The green revolution has brought us only downfall,' says Jarnail Singh, a retired schoolteacher in Jajjal village. 'It ruined our soil, our environment, our water table. Used to be we had fairs in villages where people would come together and have fun. Now we gather in medical centers. The government has sacrificed the people of Punjab for grain.'" Singh's lament is one of many revealing vignette's in the June 2009 National Geographic special report, "The End of Plenty". The richly-illustrated feature describes how hunger is hitting people around the world, despite bold attempts by multinational food conglomerates, pesticide corporations, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations and others to promote a "new green revolution". "But is a reprise of the green revolution -- with the traditional package of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, supercharged by genetically engineered seeds -- really the answer to the world's food crisis?" National Geographic asks. "Last year a massive study called the 'International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development' concluded that the immense production increases brought about by science and technology in the past 30 years have failed to improve food access for many of the world's poor. The six-year study, initiated by the World Bank and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and involving some 400 agricultural experts from around the globe, called for a paradigm shift in agriculture toward more sustainable and ecologically friendly practices that would benefit the world's 900 million small farmers, not just agribusiness."

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