Buffer-zone victory; March conference; Nematode nemesis; Pakistan bans POPs; Agent Orange suit; and more…

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives

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PANUPS March 6, 2008

Buffer-zone victory celebrated: Pesticide and environmental activists joined more than 100 residents of California’s Tulare County for a march celebrating the passage of a new law to control aerial pesticide spraying. According to Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR), the local school boards, as well as “1750 organizations and individuals have endorsed the call for buffer zones” to restrict spraying. CPR noted “over 50% of all public schools in Tulare County are within one-quarter mile of agricultural operations, putting the county’s children at high risk of exposure.” The Fresno Bee reports that the new countywide law bans aerial spraying within a quarter-mile of homes, schools and occupied farm labor camps. The Tulare rules, which took effect January 1, cover restricted use pesticides, but do not affect ground-level applications. They match those in Kern and Kings counties. CPR organized the February 20 march and a rally outside a market in Plainview, a rural community populated largely by farmworkers. “It depends on you, Plainview…to make sure the law will be enforced,” said Gustavo Aguirre of the CPR member group Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. Irma Arollo, director of local group El Quinto Sol, said, “Regular people can change things when they get together. This is just a first step to protect the health of our families from pesticides. It’s an excellent start.” The event was covered by Associated Press, four Spanish-language print and radio outlets and Fox Channel 26 in Visalia.

Still time to register for March 14-16 Conference: “Reclaiming Our Healthy Future: Political Change to Protect the Next Generation” will explore children’s health, farmworker justice, healthy and just food systems, the politics of pesticides, and much more. Convened at the University of California, Berkeley by Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Pesticide Reform, and Pesticide Action Network North America, the conference is a tri-national gathering of pesticide experts and activists. Keynote speakers include Arturo Rodriguez, president of United Farm Workers of America, and Tyrone Hayes, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. Friday night events include the one-woman play A Sense of Wonder, based on the life and works of Rachel Carson. Learn more and register online by visiting the Conference webpage.

A natural nematode solution: Australian researcher Jason Sheedy applied his Down-Under experience and expertise to the problem of nematodes in North America to demonstrate that expensive nematicides aren’t needed when farmers rely on nature’s “genetic resistance”. Microscopic nematode worms can reduce spring wheat harvests by half. But, after two years of trials covering 45 varieties of commercially available winter and spring wheat, the Capital Press reports, Sheedy demonstrated that the Tubbs and Louise varieties of wheat showed “good yields even when infected with nematodes.” As Sheedy put it: “Simply picking the right variety is the answer. It’s a no-cost solution to the farmer.” The research was conducted by the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Oregon.

Pakistan moves to ban POPs: In advance of Pakistan’s mid-February elections, the caretaker Federal Cabinet announced a series of important environmental initiatives including ratification of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, becoming the 118th country to endorse the global treaty to ban POPs chemicals. The U.S. remains locked in a political stalemate over ratifying the treaty. According to the Pakistan Times, Prime Minister Mohammedmain Soomro also endorsed a “clean drinking water project for the entire country” while the Cabinet has pledged to protect and “regenerate” Pakistan’s forests.

DDT found in U.S. parks: The Associated Press reports that “pesticides, heavy metals and other airborne contaminants are raining down on national parks across the West and Alaska, turning up at sometimes dangerously high levels in lakes, plants and fish.” A six-year investigation by the National Parks Service detected 70 contaminants in 20 national parks and monuments. “Contaminants are everywhere,” Oregon State University researcher Michael Kent told the AP. Kent, who co-authored the report, found that levels of DDT exceeded safe levels at Glacier, Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks. Pesticide contamination was traced to agricultural lands (Sequoia is downwind from the intensive farming of the San Joaquin Valley) as well as pollution carried on global winds from Eastern Europe and Asia. The Fresno Bee reports that officials in California’s Sequoia National Park “are warning rangers and hikers that fish in two popular High Sierra lakes are dangerously contaminated by DDT, a pesticide Valley farmers gave up more than a generation ago.” The Bee quoted a local environmentalist who claimed it was “chilling to think a pesticide banned 36 years ago was found at 9,000-foot-elevation lakes.” Areas once thought to be pristine wildernesses, reports the Bee, “are being showered by dozens of toxins” and the park’s pine and fir forests had the survey’s highest concentration of pesticides–including the weed killer dacthal and the pesticide chlopyrifos. Similar disturbing findings were reported in 2006 by Environmental Science & Technology, which revealed that pesticides had traveled from lowland farms in Costa Rica to wilderness mountaintops.

Court rejects Agent Orange suit: On February 22, a U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein’s decision that Vietnamese civilians exposed to Agent Orange herbicide — a toxic chemical defoliant containing 2,4-D and contaminated with dioxin — could not sue the government or the manufacturer for damages. The lawsuit seeks damages from Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other manufacturers. Operation Trail Dust and Operation Ranch Hand — the largest bio-warfare operation in military history — left thousands of Vietnamese civilians suffering from a wide range of problems including miscarriages, birth defects, Hodgkin’s disease, ovarian and prostate tumors, breast and lung cancer. The Associated Press reports that Weinstein ruled Agent Orange “was used to protect U.S. troops” and was not used as “a weapon of war against human populations.” The chemical companies claim they are innocent of “war crimes” charges because the dioxin was only a “byproduct” of the spraying. Susan Hammond, of the War Legacies Project, notes that the manufacturers’ failure to “inform the U.S. government that the herbicides contained dioxin in a timely manner is what makes them liable.” In a related ruling, the court granted the companies protection from lawsuits filed by U.S. soldiers injured by Agent Orange. According to the AP, the court ruled “the law protects government contractors in certain circumstances who provide defective products.” A moving first-person story on the legacy of Agent Orange appears in the March/April issue of Orion Magazine.

Cats, Kids, and Pesticides: Ten-year-old William Hunt and his cat were doused with pesticides when a neighbor in Piedmont, California, sprayed the hedge next to his home. According to the Simple Steps Website, the cat developed eye and kidney abnormalities while William broke out in a rash and later developed heart problems. In a SimpleSteps video, William’s mother and Natural Resources Defense Council’s Dr. Gina Solomon both wonder whether his health problems were caused by the pesticide exposure. The sad fact is: we may never know. More than 90% of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have up to 43 pesticides in their bodies, and children, with their smaller bodies and faster metabolisms, are particularly vulnerable.

Endives without endosulfan: In recent years, Pesticide Action Network Germany has issued a series of six guides for tropical farmers wishing to grow pesticide-free cotton, mangos, string beans, corn, tomatoes and sesame. These field guides are featured on the group’s Online Information Service for Non-Chemical Pest Management in the Tropics website, OISAT.PAN Germany Now PAN Germany has published its newest guide, available to download as a pdf: How to Grow Crops without Endosulfan. Endosulfan is one of the most dangerous pesticides still in use and this easy-to-read guide shows small-scale farmers how to successfully apply non-chemical alternatives.

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