Taking stock of Dow; Indoor air alarm; Vintners love bugs; Pesticide bans vs. yields; Hippos & lobsters; more…

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Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives

See PANUPS updates service, for complete information.

May 1, 2008

PAN coalition challenges Dow on toxic risks: A coalition of 21 health and environmental groups — including the American Nurses Association, Breast Cancer Fund, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace — joined PAN North America and the Environmental Health Investors Network to demand that 23 mutual funds support shareholder resolutions holding Dow Chemical and Avon Products accountable for toxic hazards associated with their products. Bank of New York Mellon, Fidelity, and Vanguard were among the target funds. At Avon’s May 1 stockholder meeting, the coalition supported a resolution demanding “a report to shareholders” on the use of nano-particles in Avon sunscreens. At Dow’s May 15 stockholders’ meeting, the coalition is backing a resolution requiring the company to report on plans to eliminate pesticide products linked to asthma. According to PAN, “approximately half of Dow’s end-use pesticide products (73 of 149) may be linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.” PAN Managing Director Steve Scholl-Buckwald criticized both companies for being “indifferent to the financial implications as well as shareholder and consumer preferences for less-toxic consumer products.” The coalition’s joint letter noted that by “exposing consumers to toxic chemicals, frequently without their knowledge, companies run real business risks, including costs of recalls, damaged reputations, litigation and loss of market share.” Full text of the letter to mutual funds is available here.

Indoor air alarm: Communities for a Better Environment, in partnership with the Silent Spring Institute, Brown University and UC Berkeley, has compared indoor and outdoor air sampling in two northern California communities — Richmond (located downwind from a petroleum refinery) and Bolinas (a rural town on the coast north of San Francisco). The study tested for 155 toxic chemicals that originate from nearby industrial emissions, transportation sources and widely used consumer products., finding 109 chemicals in the indoor air and 79 pollutants in outdoor air samples. As expected, the air in Bolinas was cleaner but what was surprising was the discovery that more than 100 chemicals were present inside homes in both Richmond and Bolinas. “We were surprised to find levels as high as they were,” Rachel Morello-Frosh, a UC Berkeley scientist, told KCBS radio. While some pollution was attributable to outside contaminants penetrating the dwellings, most of the indoor pollution stemmed from furniture, appliances and products purchased for the home. Tests turned up chemicals found in household cleaners and trace levels of DDT, an insecticide banned in 1972.

Vintners’ learn to love bugs: California’s wine growers are ditching pesticides and fungicides to battle cutworms, leafrollers and Dagger nematodes and switching to natural predators. The California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Wine Institute are encouraging vintners statewide to participate in a five-year-old Sustainable Winegrowing Program. The San Francisco Chronicle reports “vintners are turning increasingly to natural predators as allies,” with “more than 1,165 wineries and growers” currently abandoning chemical pesticides and adopting organic practices and Integrated Pest Management — a strategy first introduced by University of California researchers in 1959. In addition to relying on ladybugs, wasps and other natural predators, winegrowers are using natural compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, planting cover crops, and creating habitat to encourage insect and plant biodiversity.

China’s mothers and DDT: Before China banned the pesticide DDT, large amounts were manufactured at the Dagu Chemical Plant in Tianjin. The plant discharged untreated chemical wastes into the local waterways and today, according to a report in Science of the Total Environment, Tianjin suffers “from severe contamination of DDT.” The study of 100 Tianjin mothers found four metabolites of DDT “in venous blood, breastmilk and umbilical blood…. The levels of DDT in children’s blood were higher than that in the women’s.”

Pesticide bans save lives and don’t reduce yields: Sri Lanka has one of the world’s highest rates of suicide-by-poisoning but a new report in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests that bans on the most toxic pesticides are saving lives. Before they were banned in the 1990s, the pesticides endosulfan, monocrotophos and methamidophos were widely used to commit suicide. Now that Sri Lankan farmers have adopted less-toxic pesticides, the number of poisonings remains the same but there has been a 40-50% reduction in deaths. The pesticide industry warned that such bans would harm agricultural output or prices but researchers from Sri Lanka, Australia and Britain, who examined yields of rice and 13 vegetable crops, found “no drop in productivity in the years after the main bans were instituted.” Furthermore, there was “no sudden change in costs of rice production coinciding with bans.” The researchers concluded that countries should encourage “substitution of less-toxic pesticides. If farmers have an affordable alternative for pest control for each crop, there is no obvious adverse effect on agricultural output.”

Carbofuran kills hippos: Kenyan conservationists are demanding the government ban the pesticide carbofuran from the Maasai Mara game reserve after five hippos died and four lions were paralysed. Rangers found traces of the granular pesticide, which is used to kill insects in food crops, in the hippos’ bodies and in areas where they grazed. The sick lions had fed on the dead hippo. The respected scientist Richard Leakey urged Kenyan officials to follow the example of Europe and the U.S. by banning the import and sale of a chemical that “is widely abused because it is easily available over the counter.” In the 1990s, carbofuran (an acutely toxic PAN “Bad Actor” poison) killed huge numbers of birds in Kenya and entered the human food chain. According to Reuters, “There have also been more recent cases of the pesticide being used intentionally to kill predators like lions and other wildlife.” Meanwhile, the recent U.S. ban decision has been challenged by carbofuran’s manufacturer, FMS Corp.

Save Rhode Island lobsters: Rhode Island lobster lovers are worried that Altosid, a larvicide used to control mosquito larvae, is killing young lobsters in Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound. The product (which contains the PAN “Bad Actor” ingredient methoprene) is placed in storm drains that empty into bay waters. Maine, the only East Coast fishery whose lobster populations remain at sustainable levels, has banned the use of methoprene. In all the other East Coast fisheries, lobsters suffer from shell disease and birth rates that are abnormally low. Use the Organic Consumers Association petition to ask RI officials to follow Maine’s lead.

Golden State says it’s time for CHANGE: California is preparing to join the growing list of states and countries committed to “fundamentally transform how chemicals are managed.” Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy (CHANGE) is concerned about soaring rates of childhood leukemia and brain cancer. Most of the 82,000 chemicals sold in the U.S. (and another 1500-2000 introduced annually) are not adequately tested. Following the example of the European Union and Canada, activists in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Washington are calling for a ban on hazardous chemicals and the substitution of safer, “green chemistry” alternatives. CHANGE wants dangerous chemicals pulled from the market by 2016. Since California has the world’s sixth largest economy, adopting such regulations would have a profound effect. According to CHANGE: “The failure of the current system is not just a failure of law but also the result of a drastic imbalance between the rights of individuals and communities and the power of the corporations that produce and defend dangerous chemicals.”

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