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May 22, 2008
- USDA cuts pesticide reporting
- Lindane loses big in Michigan
- End-time for endosulfan?
- Dow researcher resigns
- Dow votes down health resolution
- A new generation of Bhopal victims
- New Zealand’s endosulfan scare
- DDT threatens Uganda’s organic farms
- Nigeria bans pesticides after mass poisonings
A coalition of U.S. public interest groups including Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, Natural Resources Defense Committee (NRDC), Union of Concerned Scientists, and The Organic Center are protesting budget cuts that will kill the collection and public reporting of pesticide use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), according to the Associated Press. In a letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer, 45 public interest groups argued that the NASS’s Agricultural Chemical Usage reports are the only reliable, publicly available source of data on pesticide and fertilizer use outside of California. According to NRDC’s Jennifer Sass, “eliminating the program will severely hamper efforts of the USDA, the EPA, and state officials to perform risk assessments and make informed decisions on pesticide use.” PAN’s Science Department Director Brian Hill commented: “Allowing growers and applicators to use highly toxic pesticides without a comprehensive, national reporting structure is as dumb as flying in a storm without instruments.” NASS, a program that has published pesticide use data since 1991, has been dramatically scaled back by the Bush administration. First, the agency’s annual surveys were cut to biennial reviews. In 2007, data collection was reduced to just three crops—cotton, apples and organic apples. Now, NASS has announced it will not collect agrichemical use data on any crops during the 2008 growing season.
In a decisive 72-35 bipartisan vote, Michigan lawmakers passed HR 4569, a bill to restrict the use of lindane as a head lice preventative in children’s shampoos. The May 15 vote came despite heavy lobbying by Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals, the primary distributor of lindane products in the U.S. Former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders even met with legislators to plead Morton Grove’s case. “This is an important vote for children’s health,” said Jon Fliegel, M.D., chair of the legislative committee of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Fliegel urged Michigan’s state senate to pass the bill quickly. Tracey Easthope, MPH, of the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health and the Ecology Center, thanked the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ted Hammon, for helping “reduce a persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemical from entering the Great Lakes.”
On May 19, scientists, environmentalists, and Arctic Indigenous groups called on the EPA to phase out endosulfan, and are meeting with EPA officials this week to discuss their concerns. More than 55 international scientists and health professionals signed a letter urging the EPA to act on endosulfan, which is known to harm the hormone system and has been linked to birth defects, male reproductive harm, and possibly autism. Acute poisoning can cause convulsions and death. “Endosulfan is present in our traditional foods, threatening the health of our people,” Alaskan resident Violet Yeaton of the Native Village of Port Graham declared. “EPA must take action now to protect U.S. communities from this dangerous insecticide – it is time we catch up with the rest of the world,” said Medha Chandra, an international campaigner at Pesticide Action Network. The European Union and more than 20 other countries have already banned endosulfan. PAN was one of 111 environmental health groups submitting a letter this week calling on the EPA to revoke endosulfan’s registration. More than 13,000 people petitioned the agency earlier this year to withdraw registration of the pesticide, which is used primarily on tomatoes and cotton.
Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire’s controversial move to replace an anti-pesticide toxicologist with a pro-pesticide scientist has been rebuffed. Toxicologist Steve Gilbert, a board member of the Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC), was removed from the Pesticide Incident Reporting and Tracking Review Panel and replaced by Charles Tim-chalk. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that Timchalk “previously worked for Dow for 10 years and has continued to do research for the company.” The Farm Worker Pesticide Project (FWPP) uncovered evidence that Tilmchalk’s appointment was pushed by a lobbyist for the agrochemical trade group CropLife America and the pro-pesticide Washington Friends of Farms and Forests (WFFF). After the revelations were published, Timchalk quickly submitted his resignation. WFFF’s Heather Hansen had called for Gilbert’s removal because his unpaid work with the WTC constituted a “conflict of interest.” FWPP’s Carole Dansereau responded that Timchalk’s paid work for Dow constituted an even greater “conflict of interest.”
A hostile crowd of Dow stockholders beat back a resolution calling for more accountability regarding Dow pesticides linked to asthma. The resolution, submitted by a coalition lead by the Investors Environmental Health Network, still managed to receive more than 9% support. “Although we didn’t win the vote,” reported Shana Ortman, U.S. coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, “it is important that Dow is faced with questions about its environmental health legacies in the US and in Bhopal.” After the meeting, Dow’s Director of Global Issues told Ortman that Dow’s situation — having bought out Union Carbide, after Carbide’s Bhopal plant exploded in 1984 and then refusing liability for cleaning up the site — was similar to buying a used car: If the vehicle was found to have “major problems” they would be “the previous owners’ fault, not your fault.“ Ortman replied that it was offensive to compare the suffering of Bhopalis to a used car and offered an extension to the analogy: “If you buy a used car and it breaks down in the middle of the highway and causes a pile up, then it IS your fault because you chose to buy and drive that car.” On May 20, Ortman and Bhopal campaign supporters staged a protest at the Indian Consulate in San Francisco to present a petition demanding justice for Bhopal.
More than 23 years after the explosion at Union Carbide’s Bhopal pesticide plant killed 20,000 people, “the true legacy of the disaster is only now coming to light.” The Guardian reports “hundreds of children are still being born with birth defects as a result of the world’s worst industrial disaster.” In February and March, Bhopal survivors walked 500 miles to New Delhi to demand justice; they have since been camped out demanding justice and a meeting with India’s Prime Minister. One of the marchers, Kesar Bhai, cradled her 12-year-old son Suraj as she told the press: “He cannot even eat on his own. I get free medical care for my breathing difficulties because I am a gas victim. My child does not get any help.” A 2003 American Medical Association study found that boys exposed to gases or born to exposed parents were prone to “growth retardation.” The Guardian reports the Indian government “stopped all research on the medical effects of the gas cloud 14 years ago, without explanation.” There has been no cleanup of the plant despite a 2006 promise from the Prime Minister. A government promise to care for victims has left more than 100,000 children without medical care. On May 21, after almost two months protesting in Delhi, 40 of the survivors were arrested after chaining themselves outside the Prime Minister’s house.
Endosulfan, a toxic pesticide, has been found in New Zealand’s lettuce and strawberries. “That this old-fashioned organochlorine pesticide is still being used by New Zealand is deeply embarrassing,” Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa Coordinator Dr. Meriel Watts told reporters. “That it is still turning up as residues in our daily food is completely unacceptable.” Endosulfan, already banned in 56 countries because of its persistence and high toxicity, is an endocrine disruptor and a neurotoxin that is linked to birth defects, breast cancer and Parkinson’s disease. It has been listed for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention. In 2005, New Zealand’s livestock industry suffered a $30 million dollar loss after illegal residues of endosulfan were detected in beef shipped to Korea.
Three weeks after Uganda began spraying homes with DDT, as part of a controversial malaria-control program, a coalition of organic farmers and exporters sued the government for violating the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety guidelines for spraying. Uganda derives 60% of its export revenue from organically grown coffee, cotton, produce and flowers. Its yearly $500 million market could be affected if DDT contaminates these export crops. An organic cotton exporter told The East African that improper home spraying had contaminated “farm-tools, bicycles and produce.” A committee set up to assure compliance with WHO standards has apparently never met. Uganda (the only East African country using DDT to battle malaria) argues that DDT is 50% cheaper than a pyrethroid insecticide alternative. In South Africa, Zambia and Ethiopia, DDT is sprayed in townships, far removed from agricultural areas. In Uganda, however, spraying is conducted in rural villages where crops are frequently grown.
In mid-May, Nigeria banned 30 agrochemical products after several incidents of food poisoning sent hundreds of school children to hospitals and killed at least two. More than 120 students at a girls school in Gombe and 112 people in Cross River State were poisoned after eating beans and moi-moi tainted with organophosphates and carbamates. The Vanguard reports tests found “outrageously high levels of lindane,” a pesticide that can cause vomiting, dizziness, convulsions and death. Endosulfan was found on beans, palm oil, onions and food seasonings. The president of CropLife Nigeria (the agrichemical industry’s trade group) defended the use of pesticides on stored grains “to reduce…pest infection,” but Prof. Dora Akunyilli, Director General of the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control, responded: “In trying to conserve these foods, we make them poisonous.” Among the chemicals banned are: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, dinoseb, endrin, heptaclor, lindane, parathion, and toxaphene — many of which have been on PAN’s historic Dirty Dozen Pesticides List.
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