Endosulfan moves closer to global ban; Tell EPA stand firm on fumigants; Pesticides in EU food; Dow sues Canada; more

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October 23, 2008

Endosulfan moves closer to global ban

Workers Spraying EndosulfanMeeting in Geneva on October 17, the scientific review committee of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (PDF guide, 24 pp.) voted unanimously to forward endosulfan for consideration for addition to the treaty’s list of chemicals to be phased out. Endosulfan is an organochlorine, part of the same family of chemicals as DDT, which EPA banned in 1972. The dangerous and antiquated insecticide is already banned by the European Union, nine west African and several Asian countries. The production and use of endosulfan remains high in China and India, and India’s state-owned Hindustan Insecticides Limited is a major producer of the chemical. These two countries abstained from the committee vote after trying unsuccessfully to stall the process. Scientific review of the chemical should take two years, with a final decision to list and thus ban endosulfan expected by government representatives in 2011. “Momentum is building for a global phaseout of this dangerous chemical,” says Karl Tupper, PAN North America staff scientist. “This is good news for farmers, workers and children worldwide who suffer the health effects of endosulfan.” Tupper will be in Rome next week as governments consider the addition of endosulfan to another international treaty, the Rotterdam Convention, which requires government-to-government notification when dangerous pesticides and other chemicals cross international borders.

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Thousands call on EPA to eliminate endosulfan now

Even as the Stockholm Convention reached a milestone toward a global ban, Pesticide Action Network, in coalition with Earthjustice and the United Farm Workers (UFW), this week delivered more than 25,000 individual signatures to US EPA calling for endosulfan to be removed from America’s farms and food supply. Twenty-four organizations joined in supporting the call. EPA is currently considering action on endosulfan in response to petitions submitted in February followed by a legal brief from the Natural Resources Defense Council, technical letters from PAN and others, and some 13,000 individual signatures on petitions gathered by the UFW, PAN, Organic Consumers Association, Beyond Pesticides, Farmworker Association of Florida, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and allied groups. Last May, concerned scientists and public health professionals issued an open letter calling on the EPA to cancel all uses of endosulfan on the grounds that it is a highly toxic, bioaccumulative, and persistent chemical. Last July a broad coalition of groups represented by Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the EPA to protect children, farmworkers, and endangered species from endosulfan’s long tail of lingering effects. 

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Alert: Tell EPA to stand firm on fumigant use

Take Action on Fumigant PesticidesThe US EPA is under pressure from manufacturers and corporate farm interests to weaken proposed regulations to protect farmworkers and rural communities from fumigant exposure. That’s why it’s important to Take Action Now to tell EPA we want the highest safety precautions for fumigant pesticide use and a timeline to phase out fumigants. In July 2008, after three years of deliberation, EPA proposed new rules for five toxic fumigants pesticides. While the proposed rules fall short of fully protecting people and the environment, they are a giant leap forward in reducing risks of exposure to these dangerous chemicals. Fumigants are among the most toxic pesticides in use today. Exposure has been linked to birth defects, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and acute poisonings. Fumigants are used in large quantities to sterilize soils before planting — an archaic tool of chemically-reliant industrial agriculture and the antithesis of soil-nurturing sustainable farming. Please sign the petition by Tuesday, October 28 to demand that EPA stand firm on fumigant rules as an important step toward safer farming.

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Dow files claim against Canada over 2,4-D ban

Dow AgroSciences has filed a notice of intent to seek compensation under “investor-protection provisions” of NAFTA for damages from the government of Canada over Quebec’s provincial ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides. The Globe & Mail reports: Dow, which makes the weed-killer 2,4-D, claims “the Quebec ban outlawing the use of bug and weed sprays for merely appearances’ sake around homes breaches legal protections owed by Canada to U.S. investors under the trade agreement.” U.S. pesticide manufacturers are clearly alarmed at the spread of bans of landscape pesticides and herbicides, adopted by Ontario as well as Quebec, and by Canadian cities from coast to coast over the last decade. Dow and other 2,4-D producers have threatened legal action since at least 2002. A similar NAFTA-based claim has been filed by Chemtura over Canada’s ban on lindane for seed treatment. The Globe & Mail notes that Kathleen Cooper of the Canadian Environmental Law Association observed that “the Quebec ban is backed by medical and environmental organizations, and enjoys wide support in public-opinion surveys. She says she is troubled that chemical producers can invoke NAFTA in an effort to ‘undermine the decisions of democratically elected governments.'”

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Pot pesticides poisoning U.S. forests

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) reports Mexican-based “marijuana cartels” are using U.S. National Parks and forests to hide thousands of illegal pot farms — in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and throughout the West. In the past two years, the Associated Press reports, 700 pot farms were discovered on USFS land in California alone. Last year, 20,000 pot plants were discovered in Yosemite Valley National Park. The USFS warns these illicit farms have turned pristine forests into “some of the most polluted pockets of wilderness in America.” The California Department of Fish and Game estimates that growing a dozen marijuana plants requires about 1.5 pounds of fertilizers and pesticides. As of September 2, more than 2.2 million marijuana plants had been removed from California’s forests. According to the AP: “Weed and bug sprays, some long banned in the US, have been smuggled to the marijuana farms. Plant growth hormones have been dumped into streams…. Rat poison has been sprinkled over the landscape to keep animals away.” USFW Agent Ron Pugh told the AP: “America’s most precious resources … are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals.” While millions of dollars are spent destroying these hidden crops, there are no funds for cleaning up the chemical pollution. In addition to poisoning watersheds that supply downstream communities, pesticide residues cling to the plants themselves, leading CDFG Agent Patrick Foy to offer this warning to marijuana consumers: “You ain’t just smoking pot, bud. You’re smoking some heavy-duty pesticides from Mexico.”

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Pesticides in EU Foods Hit Records Highs

Grapes were the most affected fruit“Almost half of fruits, vegetables and cereals are now contaminated with pesticides,” according to PAN Europe. The shocking discovery is based on an official study that is set to be released in November. Five of the pesticides most commonly found in food are known to be “carcinogenic, mutagenic, or disruptive to the hormonal system.” PAN Europe Coordinator Elliott Cannel notes “these are the worst pesticide results we’ve ever seen. A record proportion of fruits and vegetables are contaminated, while 23 pesticides were detected at levels high enough to present an acute risk to public health — according to the EU’s own risk calculations.” This represents a 20% increase in pesticide contamination of EU foods over the past five years. Nearly 5% of fruits, vegetables and cereals were found to contain dangerous levels of pesticides and more than 10% of the foods sampled contained four different pesticide residues. The study found 354 pesticide residues including maneb, procymidone, iprodione, carbendazim, deltamethrin and imidacloprid, the pesticide implicated in the mass die-off of European bees. The findings come as the European Parliament is preparing to vote on new EU-wide restrictions on pesticide regulations.

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New York to ban the bug-bomb

On October 17, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report revealed that at least 466 people have been sickened or injured by indoor pesticide foggers — aka “bug-bombs” — since 2001. With 26% of the victims New Yorkers, the State’s Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines told the Associated Press, “we cannot wait for the federal government to restrict the use of foggers.” New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) plans to reclassify the bug-bombs a “restricted-use product” that can only be used by certified pesticide applicators. Foggers have caused as many as eight explosions in New York City when the pyrethrin-filled smoke was ignited by pilot lights. While 80 percent of the victims only suffered burning eyes and headaches, 18 percent required hospital treatment and two percent were seriously affected. The AP reported there was one death: “A baby put to bed the evening her apartment was treated with three foggers was found dead the next morning.” At $13 per three-pack, foggers are cheaper than hiring a professional exterminator but DEC notes there are other options “starting with blocking insects by caulking cracks.”

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Pesticide ban stirs up a tulip tempest

The Dutch Agriculture and Horticulture Organization (DAHO) has complained that new European Union restrictions on pesticides could destroy The Netherlands’ famous — and profitable — tulip industry. A tulip’s life can be cut short by moles, voles or Botrytis blight. And some see pesticides as the only defense. “Let us keep using those pesticides we can’t do without,” said DAHO spokesperson Jaap van Wenum. “If a sugar beet is small, it can still be sold. If a tulip bulb is too small it cannot produce a flower.” Dutch Agriculture Minister Murco Mijnlieff said the government backs the restrictions announced in June. However, Minjlieff warned, if the European Parliament approves a more restrictive ban in January, “it’s a problem.” Dutch Green Party member Kathalijne Buitenweg welcomes the pesticide ban without reservations. “We have to choose for our health,” Buitenweg told the Associated Press. “Protecting people and the environment outweighs short-term economic interests.” Fortunately, you don’t have to chose between healthy tulips and a healthy planet. You can have both with organic certified blooms.

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