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November 06, 2008
- India blocks addition of endosulfan to international “watch-list”
- UN builds partnership to promote DDT alternatives
- Hospitals pledge to halt use of toxic pesticides
- India’s local approach to “green” pesticide solutions
- Bhopal water pollution case reinstated
- Nestle pulls toddler cereal over pesticide concerns
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Last week in Rome, India, now the worlds largest producer of endosulfan, succeeded in blocking the addition of this neurotixic pesticide to the Rotterdam Convention. The Prior Informed Consent (PIC) treaty is meant promote information exchange about hazardous chemicals and to help less developed countries enforce domestic bans and restrictions on listed chemicals. Endosulfan had been recommended for inclusion in the treaty by its own scientific Chemical Review Committee, and almost all of the 126 countries that are Parties to the treaty supported it’s inclusion. While Pakistan and Sudan initially supported India’s objection, by the end of negotiations India was alone in blocking endosulfan. “India will be remembered as putting the economic interests of its chemical industry ahead of the health and welfare of the users of the industry’s products” said PAN’s Karl Tupper who was at the meeting. He noted that in key negotiating sessions, the delegate from the Indian government was flanked by, and deferred to, representatives of the Indian Chemical Council and government-owned Hindustan Inseceticides Limited, which makes endosulfan and is also the largest remaining producer of DDT. India was also among a handful of countries blocking the addition of asbestos to the treaty. Final decisions on listing endosulfan and asbestos were thus postponed to the next meeting of the parties, likely in 2010. In response to the obstruction, the European Union called on parties to apply the PIC procedures on endosulfan and asbestos in the interim on a voluntary basis, and several countries including Switzerland, Gambia and the Sahelian countries, Chile, New Zealand, Brazil, Peru, and Paraguay expressed their intention to do so.
A strategy session focused on how the global community can best promote alternatives to DDT for malaria control is being hosted this week by the UN Secretariat for the Stockholm Convention. Eighty delegates from governments, industry, research institutions and NGOs are meeting in Geneva to develop plans to implement the Convention’s mandate to reduce reliance on indoor spraying of DDT for malaria control. As one of twelve substances controlled under the treaty, DDT has been targeted for global elimination, but exemptions are permitted for use of DDT for malaria control if alternatives are not readily available. In a report from the UN News Service, UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner underlines the goals of the session: “DDT is an old substance, there has to be a better way. We need to build the confidence of Governments and malaria-stricken communities to invest in genuine alternatives that can be deployed straight away so that DDT becomes a weapon of last resort.” Exposure to DDT is especially dangerous to developing infants and children. Sound scientific evidence shows low levels of exposure during pregnancy can reduce babies’ birth weight, cause developmental delays in children, interfere with a mother’s ability to breast feed, increase risk of miscarriage, and cause reproductive harm. Delegates at the three-day meeting are reviewing a proposal for a global partnership to ensure that DDT alternatives are actively promoted in countries and communities at risk.
In 2003, a Beyond Pesticides survey revealed that major U.S. hospitals, nursing homes and health facilities were regularly using dangerous pesticides. “While the chemicals used are legal and approved” by the U.S. EPA, the Baltimore Sun notes, “25 of the most commonly used pesticides have links to cancer, birth defects and neurological problems.” In 2005, Beyond Pesticides joined forces with the Maryland Pesticide Network to remedy this problem. After conducting a statewide survey of pesticide practices, the two groups invited Maryland healthcare operators to adopt a “green approach to pest control.” As a result, the Sun reports, “thirteen Maryland health facilities are working to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides in their pest control efforts.” This first-of-its-kind effort was hailed by Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman who praised the participants for “staying ahead of the curve.” The trend-setting hospitals include Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric, Cooper Ridge, Harbor and Sinai; and the Erickson and Broadmead retirement centers, the Forbush School, and the Mercy, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins Bayview, and Springfield medical centers.
An article published by the London-based NGO Science and Development Network argues that the Green Revolution “largely failed to reach resource-poor farmers” in India where small-scale farmers, “unable to use agri-chemicals appropriately,” frequently “become victims of their toxicity.” In response, Daniel Puente-Rodriguez writes, a multi-stakeholder project in Andhra Pradesh has launched a new approach — inviting poor farmers to work directly with local research institutes and NGOs to control the Castor-semilooper (a major cause of crop loss) using biopesticides based on local strains of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). A cost-effective, low-tech “solid-state fermentation production process” was designed to work on the village level. Now, small, micro-enterprise plants run by local NGOs with support from the research institutes are producing and distributing affordable biosprays for local use. And this time, Puente-Rodriguez reports, “resource-poor farmers and NGO partners participated in field trials and feasibility tests.” While Monsanto runs “pro-poor” programs in Andhra Pradesh, Puente-Rodriguez calls these mainly a “public relations exercise” that treats local farmers as “passive recipients of the final products.” In contrast, the local approach is succeeding because “formal scientists are making space for NGOs and farmers within their research…. Development of biotech products must be rooted within (and have the consent of) the rural communities they are supposed to benefit.”
On November 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated a lawsuit contending that thousands of people in India were exposed to polluted drinking water from the decrepit Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, the site of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster. According to Reuters, the lawsuit is seeking class-action status and unspecified monetary damages, and contends that there are potentially thousands of people in Bhopal who have suffered injuries linked to the polluted water. The three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled that the lower court had incorrectly granted Union Carbide’s request for summary judgement, and had not presented the plaintiffs with pretrial access to documents and other key information that was sought. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of people who suffered ailments such as cancer and neurological damage resulting from contaminated drinking water near the site of the 1984 plant explosion. “We’ve waited since 1999 to get our day in court and we look forward to proceeding,” said Richard Lewis, one of the attorneys who represents the plaintiffs.
Nestle is withdrawing Farinha Lactea, a cereal marketed for toddlers, because it contains a potentially toxic pesticide and should not be eaten, according to Jerry Farrell, Jr., Connecticut’s consumer protection commissioner. The pesticide, pirimiphos-methyl, is a PAN Bad Actor and a cholinesterase inhibitor. Exposure to cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticides has been linked to impaired neurological development in the fetus and in infants, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease. According to The Day, after testing samples of the product, the toxicology unit at Connecticut’s Department of Public Health told Farrell they consider the levels unacceptable. “The levels also registered above the European Union’s action level,” Farrell said. While there have been no reports of illness, consumers have been instructed to discontinue use of the cereal, and return unused portions at the original place of purchase for a refund.
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