Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
April 16, 2010
- World Malaria Day: DDT “debate”
- Chemical policy reform
- ‘Transgenic trojan horse’
- Asian farmers demand end to Rice Institute
- Kids exposed prenatally linked to 2yr developmental delay
- Utah poisonings lead to new rules
Malaria remains a devastating disease that affects large swaths of the developing world, especially Africa and Asia. Each year, scientists and advocates redouble their efforts to combat this disease on April 25, World Malaria Day. And each year, in the run-up to World Malaria Day, the same fringe elements responsible for denying climate change and manufacturing doubt about the risks of smoking try to turn the occasion into a culture war over the legacy of Rachel Carson and the environmental movement with a misinformation campaign promoting DDT as a “silver bullet” solution to malaria taken away by over-zealous environmentalists. Pesticide Action Network is a frequent target despite our consistent support for the Stockholm Convention’s program for gradually phasing out DDT while phasing in more effective and comprehensive solutions. The notion that DDT is the developing world’s best hope for controlling malaria is factually incorrect and not supported by the majority of malariologists around the world — regardless of one’s position on DDT.
In addition to its myriad, intergenerational human health harms, and decades-long persistence in the environment, DDT does not work to control malaria because mosquitoes quickly develop resistance to it. According to community health practitioners, malariologists and other scientists familiar with on-the-ground realities of malaria, the disease is best controlled through a combination of improved health care infrastructure along with environmental management, widespread use of bednets, community participation and quick identification and treatment of the disease. These solutions have already yielded dramatic results in Vietnam, Kenya and Mexico, and these are the sorts of pragmatic solutions PAN International advocates for with agencies around the world. Join us in urging President Obama and the USAID’s President’s Malaria Initiative to protect families around the world with the safest, most effective solutions.
PAN Africa director Abou Thiam insists that “what communities on the ground need are ramped up efforts combating malaria with the safest, best solutions — not a persistently toxic insecticide to which mosquitoes quickly develop resistance, and experts worldwide agree is harmful to human health.” As for the cynical public misinformation campaign conducted by DDT promoters, PAN International campaigner Dr. Medha Chandra has this to say: “It would be one thing if there were, in fact, an evidence-based debate to engage in on this point, but there is not. Many from the malariologist community, the 170 countries supporting the Stockholm Convention and scientists from around the world all agree that DDT is not the answer. Every 45 seconds a child dies for lack of public support for real solutions, and DDT promoters somehow think it is appropriate to use that tragedy as an occasion for advancing their anti-environmentalist crusade.”
Reform of U.S. chemical policies took a giant step forward this week, as Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the long awaited “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010”. Under the new law, U.S. EPA would have broad new authority to regulate both new and existing chemicals, and would require manufacturers to provide data to the agency for every chemical they produce. “America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals, and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe.” The legislation is the first effort in more than 30 years to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which governs EPA’s management of chemicals used in consumer products and industrial processes. More than 62,000 chemicals were “grandfathered in” when TSCA was passed in 1976 without any requirement to demonstrate safety. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) plans to introduce a companion version of the Safe Chemicals Act in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks, according to the New York Times.
The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, a broad coalition of more than 200 organizations, supports the bill but will seek some improvements to better protect the public from toxic chemicals. “The Safe Chemicals Act goes a long way toward bringing chemical policy into the 21st century,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of the national campaign. “We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill to keep dangerous chemicals out of the marketplace.” As part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, Pesticide Action Network will continue to work with partners to press for stronger provisions in the bill, focusing particularly on the need to give EPA authority to take quick action on persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs). “Countries around the world have already taken action on many of these dangerous, long-lasting chemicals,” said Kristin Schafer, Senior Policy Analyst for PAN North America. “The Safe Chemicals Act should be strong enough so EPA can phase out PBTs that put current and future generations at risk.” Strong PBT provisions would also, according to Schafer, allow the U.S. to be a constructive player in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs treaty). Pesticides are governed under a separate federal law, which would also need to be revised for the U.S. to officially join the 170 countries that are already members of the POPs treaty.
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Scientists, development experts and more than 100 groups from around the world joined Pesticide Action Network this week in urging U.S. Senators to strip what they term a “GM giveaway” embedded in the Global Food Security Act (S. 384). Sponsored by Senators Casey (D-PA) and Lugar (R-IN), the bill is intended to reform aid programs to focus on longer-term agricultural development, and restructure aid agencies to better respond to crises. According to the petitioners(PDF): “With more people than ever before going hungry each day, this focus is commendable. The bill however inappropriately mandates one agricultural technology (genetically modified crops) for federal funding under the Foreign Assistance Act… We are writing today to ask that you oppose the Global Food Security Act until the bill is made technology-neutral.”
“The bill’s focus on genetically modified technology makes no sense,” explained Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist at PAN. “Independent science tells us that genetically modified (GM) crops have neither increased yield nor reduced hunger in the world. The most credible and comprehensive assessments of agriculture to date say that if we want to end global poverty and hunger, we’ll need to focus on increasing the biodiversity and ecological resilience of small-scale farming systems while also tackling the systemic causes of social and economic inequity in the world.” Mariam Mayet of the African Center for Biosafety added: “Here in Africa, pressure to import GM crops is wreaking havoc on our local economies. South Africa is now dumping GM corn into other countries, disrupting local markets and undermining the livelihoods of family farmers there. As a result, Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on GM corn imports and Kenya is now grappling with a massive, illegal and unwanted shipment of 280,000 metric tons of GM corn from South Africa. A handful of powerful agribusinesses are pitting African countries against each other, with Monsanto and international grain traders reaping the benefits and ordinary farmers losing out. The last thing we need from the U.S. is a bill legislating yet more money for GM crops.”
The bill’s critics note that if Congress singles out one technology and attaches it to a pool of foreign aid money, the pressure on developing countries to ignore other priorities and scientifically valid options — and to open their markets to that one technology — will be substantial. “At the end of the day, the GM mandate has little to do with fighting hunger and more to do with breaking open markets for American biotech corporations — it’s a transgenic trojan horse” explained Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. “To get at the root of the global hunger crisis, we need to tackle poverty, something corporate technologies will never do.”
On April 12, more than 1,000 farmers (video) joined activists from across Asia at the main gate of the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, Philippines, calling for dissolution of the Institute. Inside, IRRI was celebrating 50 years promoting Green Revolution technologies in the region. The international activists are linked in the Year of Rice Action campaign, including Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific and the Asian Peasant Coalition. The campaign, which culminated with the march on IRRI, has worked to raise awareness of the plight of small-scale, rural rice farmers whose livelihoods have been threatened by the imposition of industrial agriculture. The group points out that although the Philippines, as IRRI’s hosting country, has access to the technology that the Institute has developed, the country remains the world’s largest rice importer.
Despite its public mandate to protect the world’s rice germplasm, IRRI is currently revising its intellectual property policy to favor agrochemical companies in order to make the material in its collection more profitable. “Pesticide poisonings (estimated at 25 million occurrences involving agricultural workers per year), environmental and health calamities, soil degradation and major pest outbreaks, such as brown plant hopper infestations, continue to haunt farming communities across Asia because of the increasing use of fertilizers and pesticides that IRRI’s modern rice varieties require,” said Clare Westwood of PAN Asia and the Pacific. “With IRRI’s 50th anniversary, we farmers continue to ask why we remain poor in spite of the supposed beneficial technology that IRRI is promoting? Why have we been forced to use costly pesticides and fertilizers that have led to the high cost of production? Why can farmers no longer exchange seeds?” stated Wilfredo Marbella, convener of RESIST! Agrochemical TNCs during an “Asian Peoples’ Tribunal” which was held in Quizon city to try IRRI. “A world without IRRI is a world free of monopoly over rice varieties and deaths and diseases caused by agrochemicals they promote,” the alliance declared.
Children aged six to eight who were exposed to pesticides in utero are up to two years behind in thinking, memory and learning abilities, according to a new study, published by the National Institute for Environmental Health. Confirming a growing body of evidence that links prenatal pesticide exposure to neurodevelopmental toxicity, the study looks at Ecuadorian women working in the flower growing industry and links neurobehavioral deficits and high blood pressure in their children with occupational pesticide exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. Scientists studied second and third grade children from a small community in northern Ecuador whose adult residents have high levels of exposure to insecticides — most commonly organophosphates used in the local flower growing industry. Children were studied in two groups, one exposed and the other not. Standardized tests determined if the school aged children showed any cognitive or developmental delays by measuring dexterity, memory, intelligence and other capabilities. Researchers also evaluated the children’s current level of pesticide exposure and gave them basic health exams. Children exposed prenatally showed significant cognitive deficits, particularly motor speed, motor coordination, and performance on visual tasks involving copying pictures (in real time or from memory). The impairments approximate a 1½ to two year developmental delay. The children also showed higher blood pressure and were smaller than children whose mothers had not been exposed. The fact that none of the mothers reported pesticide-related health concerns during pregnancy suggests that these developmental effects may occur at very low levels of exposure. Among the study’s conclusions: “Pesticide exposure therefore may contribute to a
‘silent pandemic’ of developmental neurotoxicity.”
In the wake of the latest fatal poisoning with the fumigant phosphine (brand name Fumitoxin), the chemical’s manufacturers have agreed to prohibit its use in residential areas and to increase buffer zones around occupied buildings from 15 to 100 feet. In February, Rebecca and Rachel Toone, ages 4 years and 15 months respectively, died after an exterminator placed Fumitoxin pellets in burrows in the family’s yard to control voles. The active ingredient, aluminum phosphide, reacts with water to release phosphine, a deadly gas. Investigators believe that the gas made its way into the Toone’s home it where sickened the family and killed the two girls.
On April 7, the EPA announced new restrictions on products containing aluminum phosphide and magnesium phosphide, which also forms deadly phosphine gas. In addition to the prohibition on use in residential areas and expanded buffers, the new regulations, which go into effect this summer, also require signs to be posted around treated areas. “Obviously this tragedy in Utah kicked us into high gear,” said Marty Monell, from EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. While praising the EPA for responding quickly to the latest incident, the Salt Lake Tribune blasted the agency for not having acted years ago: “Less than two months after the girls were laid to rest, the use of this deadly class of pesticides is now prohibited in residential areas. Of course, the EPA’s work was made easier because there were already similar recommendations from agency scientists gathering dust on the shelf — since 1998. Instead of enacting these common-sense regulations years ago, the EPA unconscionably yielded to agricultural interests, including Big Tobacco.”
“This story highlights the weakness of our pesticide laws,” said Pesticide Action Network Staff Scientist Karl Tupper. “These products have caused numerous poisonings over the years, but industry interference has prevented the EPA from putting safety measures in place. Only now that two more people have died and their case is getting media attention has the manufacturer of this poison voluntarily decided to implement the EPA’s proposed mitigations. Without industry cooperation, it would have taken the EPA years to impose these basic safety measures.”
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