China has joined the global effort to eliminate endosulfan. This is very good — and very big — news, since China is both a large user and major producer of this harmful, longlasting pesticide.
"We are glad that China's leadership has taken the right steps in protecting its citizens," says Dou Hong of Pesticide Eco-Alternative Center (PEAC), a PAN partner group in the Yunnan province. The 12th National People's Congress agreed to eliminate China's production and use of endosulfan in late August, when it ratified a global treaty amendment requiring the ban.
Endosulfan was added to the list of chemicals slated for a global elimination under the Stockholm Convention back in 2011, after a powerful push by PAN partners around the world. The antiquated pesticide is highly toxic to humans and most other organisms, and can persist for years — even decades — in the environment.
Toward endosulfan-free cotton & tea
China began producing endosulfan in 1994, with at least three companies manufacturing the active ingredient and about 40 more formulating endosulfan products. The pesticide was initially applied mainly in cotton fields, but by 1998 its use had extended to tea, wheat, tobacco, apples, and other fruits.
More than 25,000 tons of endosulfan were used on Chinese crops between 1994 and 2004.
China officially banned endosulfan use on tea and apples in 2011, but a few months ago the pesticide was found in 11 out of 18 tea products sampled. The residue on tea leaves has raised major concerns; drinking tea is an important part of Chinese culture and most people consume several cups a day. China is also a major tea exporter.
Farewell to a very bad actor
China's recent action represents a tremendous step in the right direction.
National data on endosulfan poisonings are hard to verify, but between 1999 to 2007 PEAC recorded 77 cases, of which 32 were fatal. Also, the National Poison Control Center of China has recorded 90 poisoning incidents from 2001 to 2003 including nine deaths.
The chemical can be harmful when in contact with the skin, by inhalation, and by ingestion. Severe poisonings in the state of Kerala, India have been linked to crippling disabilities in rural families.
Dou Hong emphasizes the importance of the government's recent decision to the people of China:
“Farmers, agricultural workers, and rural communities will be spared from this toxic chemical that is on record for poisoning people and the environment. Safe alternatives to endosulfan exist and we must make every effort to produce food that is healthy and that no one is harmed in its production.”
Endosulfan is one of the highly hazardous pesticides PAN International has targeted for global action. China's recent action represents a tremendous step in the right direction.
Picture provided by PEAC, Yunnan province, China.
Farmer applying endosulfan on cotton field in Xinjiang province, China.