Endosulfan Tip of the Toxic Iceberg

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 It is hard to believe that an outdated dangerous pesticide is essential; haven’t they heard of more organic methods of pest control?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.

16 Comments Posted

  1. I’d like to add one more thing. The so infamous pesticide Endosulfan is being used in Australia under restrictions – is being used safely. Latest review made by APVMA Australia just to check whether EPA US was right stating “possible endocrine disruption” comes to different conclusion. It is not dangerous more than other agrochemicals. And protecting so much the organics you are forgetting that organics can also be dangerous for human health. It’s not the pesticide which is hazardous, it’s the USE of it.

  2. I regret the personal attacks on me at this forum. However, resistance to such abuse is so ingrained in the DNA of Indians, that we are able to persist with the search for truth.

    I support pesticide safety regardless of the molecule involved. No pesticide is best for all occasions, and neither is any without specific merits. I have participated in Endosulfan spraying over more than 1 million acres since 1972. It is far from the only molecule with which I am familiar. However, the fact is that Endosulfan is an economic and versatile IPM and IRM agent. It has no inevitable hazards within the valid NOEL. It is the product of choice when pollinator, parasite, and predator conservation matters.

    I am proud that Indian champions the cause of pesticide safety. We are not a banana republic to follow the dictates of colonial powers. India’s achievements in sustained agricultural productivity stem from its rational policies. By the way, we do not force exports on anyone. Customers from around the world choose us as suppliers simply because we deliver superior value. Endosulfan is not sold in disguise.

    The issue is neither personal nor Endosulfan, but pesticide safety. Obfuscation helps no genuine purpose.

  3. I have been reading quite a lot about the nasty effects of glyphosate and Round Up, so called “safe” herbicides. Given that these are sprayed around as freely as a tom cat’s urine, this should be the next candidate for ERMA to review.

  4. IF we are prepared to irradiate herbs and herbal teas where is the irradiation plant and why is it not being used to irradiate chickens so we no longer have such a high rate of champlybacter.
    I have caught it in Australia and IT IS NOT VERY NICE.
    I was hospitalised for some days and it’s like being reamed out with barbed wire.

  5. Sorry Owen you are quite wrong. The spices you buy are irradiated, or at least permitted to be irradiated, as are herbal teas. You are however correct that methyl bromide is a nasty chemical, and the Greens along with PAN and the Soil & Health Association and many others have in fact been campaigning to reduce the use of methyl bromide. One of the reasons so many of us support buying local food is beauase it is not fumigated with methyl bromide. ERMA are soon to reassess methyl bromide so you will be able to make your points to them too.

  6. Methyl bromide is also a greenhouse gas but we use it to fumigate foods and spices imported in containers. It has poisoned workers on one of our wharfs.

    We only use this nasty toxic chemical because the Green party has successfully campaigned against irradiation of foods and spices which is much safer.

    I would love to have a choice in the supermarket so I could chose irradiated spices over fumigated ones.

    But I am deprived of that choice.

  7. The answer for the whinging tomato growers is Neem oil. Ironically this species of tree is native to India. Vandana Shiva fought the battle against the multinational chemical companies for India to retain the PVR rights to this remarkable natural ,non toxic to mammals pesticide many years ago. I used it in my export horticultural business for 10 years, and can testify to it’s effectiveness. While it is freely available in NZ the quality varies. This tree could be grown here. Also I used it in the sub tropical very Far North region of NZ which has a climate that harbors many pests not seen in other parts of NZ. It is the mindset that is the problem here.

  8. “merielwatts Says:
    December 17th, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Dr Banerji is a well known mouthpiece of the endosulfan industry in India”

    Yeah, I picked that up, just click on his name and have a look at his website and you are left with no doubt about that. Some time ago we had a couple of comments about Japanese whaling on frogblog, and what do you know, a whaling apologist from Japan pitches up and puts up a vigerous defence of whaling – curious. Do you think these guys have software that scans the blogosphere for posts about their issues and then provide the standard industry defence? You then never hear from them again unless their issue is raised again.

    When I think about it, it seems obvious.

  9. Dr Banerji is a well known mouthpiece of the endosulfan industry in India, the one country in the world whose government actually manufactures endosulfan and the country that succesfuly derailed the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Proceedure of the Rotterdam Convention. The PIC would have required that exporters like India have to obtain permission from countries they want to send endosuflan to, but thanks to their blocking of consensus to its listing under PIC, India can still send this nasty chemical wherever it likes. India has been internationally shamed by this action. India has also tried to derail the Review Commitee proceedure of the Stockholm Convention with spurious attacks on good science. This committee is considering endosuflan for a global ban because it is a highly toxic persistent organic pollutant. Those features of the chemical are nothing whatsoever to do with misuse, they are inherent in the chemical, and no use can occur without consquent environmental contamination – as the myriad of scientific studies identifying the pollution of India’s soil, water, rain, food and people with endosulfan demonstrates.

  10. “Some food growers are claiming this ban will destroy their businesses.”

    Same argument that the American car manufacturers have been making for years over fuel efficiency standards. Rather than getting with the programme and innovating they sat back, lobbied the US government not to mandate fuel efficiency standards. And when the crunch has come, they have a problem. Most stupid of all the same manufacturers have been making fuel efficient cars for non-US use for years.

    NZ pesticide users have had a similar choice for some time now. The chances were that eventually this pesticide would be banned so what did those who would be affected by the ban do…?

    Yep, that much.

    And theres the problem. Its much easier to innovate when you have time…

  11. >>This precautionary approach to chemicals simply means unless you can prove something is safe don’t use it.

    Fits nicely with the luddite approach.

    Looking forward to you demonstrating everything associated with organic food and alternative “medicines” are safe. I don’t think your buddies are going to like that compliance cost.

  12. The toxicology of pesticides is studied rigorously before registration. That is why only an infinitesimal proportion of chemicals synthesized in laboratories ever make it to market. The ADI of a pesticide is never less than a tenth of the NOEL. All tests have to withstand statistical tests of significance and confidence. Forget about Mars, you need not even leave the shores of New Zealand to discover the wheel of Endosulfan toxicology.

  13. a while back I was reading through the Lancet and came across an article on mothers’ milk. The authors, and the peer reviewers, had been able to establish that human milk, in Europe, North America and Australasia, is carcinogenic!

    Now, I can’t prove that it’s not, any more than I can prove that mars isn’t made of Gouda cheese and no human has yet set foot on the moon! Proving a negative is a task no one should have to undertake, but let’s think about the consequences of that concept for a minute.

    I hope you don’t like a glass of wine, or some other alcoholic beverage, because it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove it does not lead to premature death. I hope you don’t drive, or ride in, any form of vehicle, because it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove that it will not be the cause of your death. I hope you don’t use aspirin, it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove it will not be the cause of your death.

    What I can prove is that lead balloons go UP, and you CAN make a silk purse from pigs’ ears! Don’t believe me? The silk purse, together with all the proof of what it is and how it was made, is in the Smithsonian in Washington DC. The records relating to a lead balloon interfering with air-traffic control communications at 30,000 feet is in the archives of both the FCC in Washington and the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    THere must be a better way than what you are proposing, otherwise it’s beck to Gaia with all of us!

  14. Pesticides are not alone in having NOELs. Life-saving drugs are eminent members of a chemical community, which is hazardous when abused. Endosulfan can and should be used safely and judiciously. Banning a substance because of abuse, is the equivalent of throwing a baby out with its used bath-water. Pest management cannot be viewed in isolation of hard numbers. Endosulfan is cheap to use, provides long-lasting and broad-spectrum protection, and is relatively safe for pollinators, egg parasites and predators. Though the latitudes of New Zealand make it tempting to draw an analogy with an iceberg, you must forgive an inhabitant of the tropics such as I, to feel that a mirage is more appropriate for your appreciation of the matter.

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