Catherine Delahunty

Endosulfan Tip of the Toxic Iceberg

by Catherine Delahunty

It is a great day for worms, tomatoes and humans. The toxic pesticide endosulfan has finally been banned. This seriously toxic chemical was banned in 55 countries but 18 Councils around Aotearoa have been using it regularly on sports fields to kill worms that made bumps in the turf. Tomato and citrus growers have been spraying it on our food. It has been linked with a wide range of horrible health effects from breast cancer, birth defects, central nervous system diseases and the rest. ERMA, who have not been renown for their precautionary approach to toxic chemicals have finally made an excellent decision. There are just another couple of hundred to go.

Along with Pesticides Action Network, Soil and Health and other concerned people, the Green party MP Sue Kedgley and myself made submissions to ERMA on the reassessment. Interestingly if you want to phone in your oral submission from a rural area, as I did, you had to pay for the call yourself. I felt like I was speaking into a vacuum but for once the vacuum acted. All credit must go to the campaigners who fought so hard to achieve both the re-basement and the result. The statutory committee advising ERMA on Maori perspectives, Nga Kaihautu Tikanga Te Taiao, also strongly advised in favour of a ban. There will be no further imports of endosulfan after January 16 2009.

Some food growers are claiming this ban will destroy their businesses. It is hard to believe that an outdated dangerous pesticide is essential; haven’t they heard of more organic methods of pest control? They might even make more money if they start the transition to producing healthy food.

But this victory is just the beginning. There are many more chemicals used in daily life that need to be reassessed. ERMA has made a start on some of the really bad pesticides and fumigants such as methyl bromide and azinphos-methyl. These names sound like heavy metal bands but are in fact heavy duty endocrine system disrupters and connected to a wide range of health effects. Azinphos- methyl for example is a toxic pesticide sprayed on almonds and apples. There are also some nasty persistent chemicals that are not high on ERMAs list, including 24D. 24D is widely used in spraying weeds in forestry and agriculture is the little cousin of 245T. A colleague of mine was helicopter sprayed with this chemical at home and developed violent skin problems; his daughter aged six started menstruating. That’s just one of many horrible stories people around the country have shared with me about their exposure to dangerous pesticides.

It is an extreme waste of time to assess each toxic chemical in isolation. Why don’t we adopt the precautionary approach which the RMA mentions in a “lip service let’s not really do anything” manner. This precautionary approach to chemicals simply means unless you can prove something is safe don’t use it. This principle is vigorously applied in places like San Francisco, so there are practical models we can follow.

So the worms, tomatoes and people are now safe from one ghastly chemical. Lets get cracking on the rest of them.

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Health & Wellbeing by Catherine Delahunty on Tue, December 16th, 2008   

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