August 14, 2008
- Bhopal victory as India vows to pursue Dow
- Uganda’s DDT battle heats up
- ‘Safe’ pesticides top poisoning list
- Eco-suit forces review of 37 major pesticides
- Endosulfan banned in Mindinao
- Save the children: ‘Ban endosulfan’
- Air Board recognizes environmental justice
- Pesticides pose grave risk to cemeteries
On August 8, the Indian government announced that it would meet many of the demands of the survivors of the 1984 pesticide plant explosion in Bhopal. The government announced that it will take legal action on the civil and criminal liabilities of Union Carbide and its owner, Dow Chemical Company, and that it will establish an “Empowered Commission” on Bhopal to address the health and welfare needs of the Bhopal survivors as well as environmental, social, economic and medical rehabilitation. PAN Executive Director Kathryn Gilje called the news “a great, hard-won and long overdue victory.” The success came only after a 172-day demonstration: survivors walked 500 miles from Bhopal to New Delhi, camped at a protest site at the historic Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi, suffered arrests and police beatings, and finally launched a 60-day hunger fast that was joined by more than 800 people around the world. PAN Action Center members participated in a global action that flooded the Prime Minister’s office with nearly 6,000 faxes. “We have won our demands only after facing undue harassment at the hands of the Government and Delhi Police,” the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) declared. “We expect the Government to go hammer and tongs after Dow Chemical, now that the law ministry has indicated that Union Carbide’s civil liabilities can be passed on to Dow.” The U.S.-based chemical giant has long-maintained that it bears no responsibility for the disaster that killed more than 22,000, left many of the 150,000 survivors with serious ailments, and continues to poison the drinking water for 25,000.
On May 30, Uganda’s High Court ordered a halt to the use of DDT and, in early August, AllAfrica reported that Uganda’s Health Ministry began spraying a pyrethroid insecticide in Oyam and Apac — two mosquito-ridden regions in the north — in place of DDT. The Kampala-based New Vision Web site reports the court acted “after activists said [DDT] would cause harm.” But the decision has proven controversial. With nearly 400 Ugandan’s dying of malaria every day, Uganda’s Attorney General is challenging the High Court’s decision and, on August 14, the government announced new plans to apply DDT in western Uganda. The U.S. has provided $1.2 billion for malaria control programs including options like mosquito bed-nets, but John Ken Lukyamuzi, Director of the Crusade for Environmental Awareness, tells the Africa Science News Service “the government has opted to use the money on DDT alone, which is hazardous.” Despite the controversy, Dr. Paul Saoke, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility Kenya, is optimistic that, finally, “we have begun to roll back DDT use in Uganda.”
Pyrethrins, natural insecticides made from chrysanthemums, were introduced as a safer way to keep homes and pets bug-free. While pyrethrins (and their synthetic counterpart pyrethroids) are far less toxic than traditional organophosphate pesticides, a Center for Public Integrity (CPI) investigation reveals they accounted for 27 percent of all reported US pesticide poisonings in 2007. The CPI report, Perils of New Pesticides, reviewed adverse reaction reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The data showed pyrethrin and pyrethroid poisonings rose 63 percent from 16,000 in 1998 to more than 26,000 in 2006, while “severe reactions and even deaths” increased nearly 300% — from 261 in 1998 to 1,030 in 2007. CPI found that “EPA data shows at least 50 deaths attributed to this supposedly safer class of pesticides since 1982.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires labeling of products containing pyrethrins and pyrethroids but the EPA does not. The rise in poisonings reflects the growing use of these “safer” pesticides in bug repellents, pet shampoos, and children’s anti-lice shampoos. The dangers — especially to children and people with allergies — remained unreported until CPI crunched the EPA’s data, a clear sign to CPI Executive Director Bill Buzenberg that “the EPA [wasn’t] doing its job.” In response to the CPI’s report, the director of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs has announced plans for a broad study of these chemicals.
“New restrictions may be placed on dozens of pesticides commonly used in Oregon, Washington and California as a result of a legal settlement between a coalition of environmental and fishing groups and the federal government,” Capital Press reports. In 2001, the coalition successfully sued the EPA for ignoring the Endangered Species Act’s requirement to assess pesticide impacts on threatened and endangered salmon. According to Capital Press, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the EPA now have until October 2008 to develop “reasonable and prudent alternatives” to 37 named pesticides. The first three products to be reviewed include malathion, diazanon and chlorpyrifos — insecticides widely used by growers of vegetables, nuts, fruits and grains. The Los Angeles Times reports that a draft biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries agency (released as part of the legal settlement) concluded there was “‘overwhelming evidence'” that “unfettered use” of the three pesticides “is ‘likely to jeopardize the continued existence’ of 28 salmon stocks off the West Coast.” The report says the pesticides interfere with basic functions of the fish including “their ability to find food, reproduce, even to swim.” The EPA must now propose new application rules that will protect the salmon. Aimee Code, Water Quality Coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, one of the successful plaintiffs represented by EarthJustice, told the Capital Press that new restrictions “should go as far as needed to protect fish.” Under the settlement, the EPA must completely review all 37 pesticides by February 2012.
On August 4, the Bukidnon Provincial Board passed an ordinance banning the use of endosulfan on local Del Monte Philippines pineapple plantations. According to Minda News, Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority (FPA) official Ma. Sonia Celleja told the board she “would be happy if the pesticides would be banned.” Boardmember Nemesio Beltran Jr. cited national health studies warning that “endosulfan can cause death or affect the central nervous system.” Although endosulfan was banned in 1993, Del Monte and Dole Philippines were given special waivers as “institutional users.” This exemption is set to expire on December 31. In a parallel action, the city council of Malaybalay has passed a resolution urging the FPA not to renew the waiver for “institutional use.”
PAN, in coalition with 13 health and children’s rights organizations, has sent a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson demanding that the agency cancel all remaining uses of the insecticide endosulfan. The August 12 letter stated: “We are particularly concerned about the effects of endosulfan on prenatal and child development. Peer-reviewed science demonstrates that endosulfan is both an endocrine disruptor and a neurotoxicant.” The letter follows up on a February 2008 petition signed by 13,300 people across the country, a legal petition filed by the National Resources Defense Council that same month, three letters sent to the Agency on May 19, 2008 signed by 111 nonprofit environmental groups, 55 scientists, and 5 coalitions of Indigenous groups and tribes, and a lawsuit filed on behalf of PAN, environmental and farmworker groups on July 24. “Endosulfan poses a threat to the health of children in the U.S.,” the letter concluded. “This antiquated organochlorine has already been phased out of agriculture in the European Union and at least 20 other countries. It is high time for the U.S. to take the health of our future generations seriously and ban all uses of endosulfan.”
The San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board of Directors has adopted a landmark resolution to protect local communities from airborne contaminants by addressing “the cumulative impact of new and existing mobile and stationary sources of air pollution — particularly in disproportionately impacted communities.” The new controls apply to particulates, ozone, airborne hydrocarbons and pollutants like carbon monoxide, methane, and sulfur dioxide. Although pesticides are not included, this new standard raises the bar for future air-quality enforcement. The policy was adopted after a campaign mounted by the Bay Area Environmental Health Collaborative and its allies. BAEHC called the new resolution “an excellent first step to address disparities, with the hard work of implementation and enforcement still ahead. For an agency that has made little progress toward achieving environmental justice, this is quite an accomplishment.”
Last September, Toronto banned pesticides in residential areas but offered exemptions for two commercial users — golf courses and cemeteries. As a representative for the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries explained, most people “don’t take lightly to seeing… their family plot overridden by weeds and pests.” According to the Globe and Mail, “lady bugs helped a little, but not enough to justify their cost,” so the cemeteries resumed the use of chemical pesticides. At least they did until 230 cemetery workers went on strike, demanding increased wages and “decreased exposure to chemical pesticides.” Canadian Service Workers Union President Willie Wham complained about the “sharp chemical smell that lingers in the air after the grounds are sprayed.” Toronto’s Public Health Web site notes pesticide exposure can lower fertility and increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Since cutting grass short leaves lawns more susceptible to fungal attacks, the cemeteries (as part of the union negotiations) agreed to let the grass stand 3.5 inches tall instead of 2 inches. In addition, Wham says, the new contract requires the cemetery owners to “follow the integrative pest management system and basically do everything they can to avoid spraying pesticides.”
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