Endosulfan is a DDT-era insecticide that persists in the environment and in our bodies. EPA data show that all of us are routinely exposed to small amounts of endosulfan in the food we eat, with young children receiving the largest doses. Studies of popluations exposed to endosulfan have been published suggesting that endosulfan can increase the risk of autism, delay puberty in boys, and cause birth defects of the male reproductive system.
Human Health Harms
Endosulfan attacks the central nervous system, causing overstimulation and a range of health harms. Acute exposure to endosulfan causes headaches, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and death. The EPA classifies endosulfan in its most extreme toxicity category (highly acutely toxic) because relatively small doses prove lethal in labratory studies.
Endosulfan related deaths and debilitation are common is the developing world, where endosulfan is cheap but personal protective equipment is expensive or even impossible to obtain. Examples include thirty-seven farmers dying in Benin, two boys dead in South Africa, flower workers poisoned in Colombia, and villagers in Philippines and India poisoned by the toxic pesticide.
At lower doses, endosulfan impacts on human health are long-lasting:
- Endocrine Disruption: A growing body of evidence suggests that endosulfan has estrogenic activity and can disrupt hormonally mediated processes. The U.S. EPA considers it to be a potential human endocrine disruptor, and in 2000 Agency for Toxics and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concluded that “endosulfan may potentially cause reproductive toxicity in humans.”
- Reproductive Harms: Studies link endosulfan to birth defects of the male reproductive system, and delayed puberty in boys.
Endosulfan & Autism
Research shows that pre-natal exposure to endosulfan could elevate risk for autism in children. Children exposed in the womb during the first trimester of pregnancy were more likely to develop autism, a recent study showed. The study, which focused on several organochlorines pesticides including endosulfan, also revealed that autism incidence in children increased with poundage of pesticides and decreased with distance from application areas. This 2007 Los Angeles Times article explains some of the study's findings.
A Legacy of Environmental Contamination
Like DDT, endosulfan is an organochlorine, an antiquated class of pesticides known for their persistence, toxicity, mobility, and ability to accumulate in organisms and concentrate in food chains. Endosulfan's chemical characteristics and behavior in the environment make it a "persistent organic pollutant," eligible for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention.
Endosulfan is pervasive in the global atmosphere and more abundant than other organochlorines. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program's Arctic Pollution 2009 assessment reports that endosulfan is also present in remote regions, and unlike other legacy pesticides whose concentrations are declining, endosufan concentrations have remained stable.
Levels of endosulfan in the environment can be lethal to certain organisms, especially fish and amphibians. Waterways near application sites are particularly threatened—for example, the EPA has estimated that after a typical endosulfan application to tomatoes, concentrations of endosulfan downstream can be up to 28 times higher than the level that is fatal to the average freshwater fish. Once released into the environment these residues take years to degrade, traveling many miles in the meanwhile.
US EPA determined in 2010 that endosulfan could not be used safely, and announced that it was phasing out all uses of the chemical in the US by 2016. Brazil and several other countries followed suit, announcing phase out plans for the chemical.
On the international front, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants agreed in April 2011 that endosulfan should be added to the list of chemicals banned globally under the treaty.
In June of 2011, endosulfan was also added to another international treaty, the Rotterdam Convention, which requires government-to-government notification when dangerous pesticides and other chemicals cross international borders.
Research & Factsheets
- ASTDR Endosulfan Factsheet & Toxicological Profile
- Extension Toxicology Network Endosulfan Profile
- PAN Europe Endosulfan Factsheet
- PAN PesticideInfo Database: Endosulfan
- Arctic Montering and Assessment Program Arctic Pollution 2009. This report discusses the prevalence of endosulfan in the environment and summarizes monitoring results.
- Northern Contaminants Program Canadian Arctic Assessment Report II: Sources, Occurence, Trends & Pathways in the Physical Environment. The NCP report presents quantitative results of endoslfan monitoring in the Canadian Arctic.
- PAN's Alternatives to Endosulfan: Adopt agroecology not potential POPs or HHPs (04-25-13)
- End of the Road for Endosulfan. The Enivornmental Justice Foundation report presents the human health and environmental harms of endosulfan.
- EPA announces ban on endosulfan use in the US! See our press release. (6-9-10)
- PAN’s Drift Catcher finds endosulfan in air near a Florida elementary school. (9-23-08)
- PAN International submits evidence to the Stockholm POPs Convention in support of the proposed global ban on endosulfan. (7-15-08)
Additional Human Health Studies:
- Persistent pesticides in human breast milk and cryptorchidism.
- Inadvertent exposure to xenoestrogens in children.
- Endosulfan Poisoning and Chronic Brain Syndrome
Additional Non-Human Health Studies: Reproductive & Developmental Toxicity
- Endosulfan modulates estrogen-dependent genes like a non-uterotrophic dose of 17beta-estradiol.
- Effects of in utero and lactational exposure to endosulfan in prefrontal cortex of male rats.
- Citrinin and endosulfan induced teratogenic effects in Wistar rats.
- Experimentally induced citrinin and endosulfan toxicity in pregnant Wistar rats: histopathological alterations in liver and kidneys of fetuses.
- A Developmental Neurotoxicity Study with Technical Grade Endosulfan in Wistar Rats.
- Pre and postnatal exposure to endosulfan in Wistar rats.
- Reproductive effects of endosulfan on male offspring of rats exposed during pregnancy and lactation.
- Chronic effect of endosulfan on the testicular of function of rat.
- Effect of endosulfan on the testis of growing rats.
- Ameliorating effect of vitamin C on murine sperm toxicity induced by three pesticides (endosulfan, phosphamidon and mancozeb).
Additional Health Studies: Possible Carcinogenic Effects:
- Endosulfan decreases cell growth and apoptosis in human HaCaT keratinocytes: partial ROS-dependent ERK1/2 mechanism."
- Effect of pesticides on estrogen receptor transactivation in vitro: a comparison of stable transfected MVLN and transient transfected MCF-7 cells.
- Effect of in vitro estrogenic pesticides on human oestrogen receptor alpha and beta mRNA levels.
- Breast cancer risk and the combined effect of environmental estrogens.
- The pesticides endosulfan, toxaphene, and dieldrin have estrogenic effects on human estrogensensitive cells.