What is Endosulfan?
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Endosulfan is a chlorinated hydrocarbon
insecticide and acaricide of the cyclodiene subgroup which acts as a poison to a
wide variety of insects and mites on contact. Although it may also be used as a
wood preservative, it is used primarily on a wide variety of food crops
including tea, coffee, fruits, and vegetables, as well as on rice, cereals,
maize, sorghum, or other grains.
Endosulfan, when sprayed, consists of the a and b isomers but these are
metabolised to the sulfate on pasture or when ingested. The primary residue
detected in livestock is therefore endosulfan sulphate.
Adding endosulfan to soil appears to reduce the rate of degradation of other
organochlorine pesticides already present in the soil, either because endosulfan
reduces the populations of micro-organisms, or because of reduction of the
activity of micro-organisms responsible for degradation of the other
Endosulfan is a powerful poison linked to accidental deaths of farmers and
consumers of sprayed crops in North and South America, Africa and Asia. In
India, long-term exposure to the chemical has been linked to hundreds of cases
of serious illnesses including cancers, birth defects and neurological and
reproductive disorders. Endosulfan kills indiscriminately and non-pest species,
including birds and fish, have died following exposure - mass deaths of fish
poisoned by endosulfan have been reported from five continents. The chemical
persists in the environment and accumulates in the food chain. It was recorded
at 100 times the permitted level in cow milk and meat in India.
The EJF report summarises the health and environmental hazards posed by this
chemical and calls for action from to governments, inter-governmental agencies
and the agrochemical industry. Endosulfan is banned or severely restricted in
over 30 countries and safe application cannot be guaranteed under conditions of
use in the developing countries where the chemical is still widely used. The
time has come for responsible authorities to take action against this chemical
in order to safeguard human health and environmental integrity.
A big drawback with endosulfan is that the breakdown product, endosulfan
sulphate, is more persistent than the parent compound, accounting for 90% of the
residue in 11 weeks.
The Central Insecticides Bureau (CIB) is the Central Govt. Agency, which
regulates pesticide use in India. They have periodical reviews of use of
pesticides and is the agency for registering its manufacture, sale and use.
The EPA recommends not more than 74 ppb (part per billion) in lakes, streams, or
rivers, and not more than 0.1 – 2 ppm (parts per million) on surfaces of
agricultural products (except dried tea, <24 ppm). Consumers are advised to wash
agricultural products before their consumption
lauds Endosulfan ban
Says no more study required
to establish health impact of the pesticide
M.S. Swaminathan has urged other
States to analyse the risks and benefits of the pesticide.
KOCHI: Agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan
has complimented the Kerala government for its decision to ban the use of
Endosulfan across the State.
Speaking on the sidelines of the sixth
Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning here on Thursday, Dr. Swaminathan said
there was no need for any new commission to study the health impact of the use
of Endosulfan. He said other States should analyse the risks and benefits of
using the pesticide. “But the bottom line of the policy should be the health of
the men, women, and children,” he said. Pointing out that the Union government
did not want to impose an all-India ban without consulting other States, where
Endosulfan is used in large quantities, Dr. Swaminathan recommended the adoption
of the ‘pracautionary principle' in this case, as it involved the health of the
people. “It's always better to be on the safer side. That is my philosophy,
particularly when it involves the health of the people,” he said.
Asked whether the ban on Endosulfan in Kerala
alone would achieve the expected results, Dr. Swaminathan said it was feasible.
“Kerala farmers are literate people. But I think there is consensus in Kerala
(against the use of the pesticide),” he said.
Stating that Endosulfan was an effective
pesticide, Dr. Swaminathan said he would not compromise human health. “That is
why we should adopt the precautionary principle,” he said.
On Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's
suggestion to introduce organic pesticides, Dr. Swaminathan said he had learnt
from media reports that the Minister had suggested so. “You can use other forms
like neem, which are much safer,” he said.
Praising Mr. Pawar for his decision to offer
Rs.100 crore as assistance for rehabilitating the families affected, Dr.
Swaminathan said the Minister had also said that it was for State governments to
decide (on banning the pesticide) according to the risks and benefits of
Facts & Myths about
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a body of WHO) does not
classify Endosulfan to be a carcinogen (cancer causing agent). United States
Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) also supports this conclusion. Several
other research publications also confirm this.
Myth: Endosulfan causes cancer
The evaluations done by WHO/FAO/JMPR in 1998 on Endosulfan have recorded that no
genotoxic activity was observed in an adequate battery of tests for mutagenecity
and clastogenecity by Endosulfan. WHO/ FAO/JMPR, 1998 had categorically
mentioned that no evidence was found to prove estrogenic activity involving
Myth: Endosulfan causes endocrine disruption
In the year 2007, US-EPA established that Endosulfan is not an anti-androgen,
i.e. it does not affect sperm production, sperm count, motility, etc.
Myth: Endosulfan causes infertility
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority notes on its website, “Endosulfan has
shown no potential to accumulate over time in animals. It is more water soluble
than other organo-chlorines… and is less persistent in the body because it
metabolises quickly. The chemical is extremely unlikely to have an effect in
humans at any level of intake that is likely to occur through food residues.”
However, the same document states, “The review… determined that it (Endosulfan)
was no longer suitable for use in New Zealand for environmental and occupational
health and safety reasons.” Interestingly, the document also adds that “many
export markets dictated chemical requirements, for example, onions destined for
the European Union markets could not be treated with the chemical due to their
import requirements.” This note still available on the official website suggests
that New Zealand and the 63 other countries banning the chemical have only
reacted to EU’s political maneuvering, since they make negligible use of
Endosulfan has been banned predominantly in 27 countries of the EU and several
Middle Eastern as well as West African nations. Many of these nations either
have insignificant stakes in agriculture or have made little use of this
pesticide for their farming activities. For Example in New Zealand, where
Endosulfan is used only on sport turfs, its discontinuation and replacement had
an insignificant socio-economic impact on the farming population.
In 2009, Australia had to answer similar questions as India when its media
reacted to the Endosulfan ban in New Zealand. The Australian Pesticides and
Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) controls use of Endosulfan in Australia.
It asserted, “Under the current level of restrictions, there is no evidence that
it (Endosulfan) is presenting any human health or environmental problems in
Australia when used according to the strict conditions that apply to its use.”
In another context, the APVMA stated, “While there is significant dialogue
between various international regulators including agreed processes and
practices, there are many country-specific factors that might lead different
national jurisdictions to make varying regulatory decisions… On this basis, a
decision by one country should not necessarily be seen as an imperative for
others.” Yet, in October 2010, following the raging Endosulfan debate, APVMA
cancelled registrations of products containing the pesticide in Australia. There
are several issues pertaining to why many countries like Australia and Brazil
banned the product despite being vocal advocates of its use and experience.
Since 2006, USA has freely used Endosulfan for veterinary purposes to stop
parasite problems in cattle that are bred for both meat and milk. In 2010,
US-EPA decided to phase-out the use of Endosulfan in agriculture. The phase out
was a result of voluntary withdrawal by the manufacturer and sole registrants of
Endosulfan in US. The central reason to have lead to this development was a
political/legal mandate to conduct costly product testing for 64 chemicals, one
of which is Endosulfan. Since the user market for Endosulfan is smaller in US
than countries like India, China and Argentina, huge investments in research
were unviable, especially in the presence of mounting pressure and uncertainty
from international conventions. This led the Endosulfan manufacturer in the US
to avoid high-cost studies and opt for the voluntary withdrawal.
Myth: Endosulfan is banned in US, EU and many other
In response to claims connecting Endosulfan with human disorders in Kerala and
Dakshina Kannada, six committees and expert groups including representatives
from health, environment and agriculture departments were set up by the Govt of
Kerala, Govt of India and the Govt of Karnataka to investigate into the reported
linkage of Endosulfan with the various incidences of adverse health effects.
Each committee has concluded that none of the alleged victims were proven to be
affected by Endosulfan. The findings of these committees have been methodically
dismissed and barely presented in the media.
Many NGOs have produced reports linking Endosulfan to adverse health problems
including cancer, infertility, birth defects and neurotic disorder. These
reports were based on the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH)
report which is proved to have been flawed. Despite this, international
conventions and regulatory authorities worldwide have referenced this report
while reviewing Endosulfan in both, the Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions.
Recently, the National Human Rights Commission has also demanded a nationwide
ban on Endosulfan based on this faulty report. Media, polity and other vested
interests are also pressuring the government into discontinuing the studies on
Endosulfan as they are already aware of what the results would be.
NIOH Errors: The NIOH report of 2002 titled ‘Report of the investigations of
unusual illnesses allegedly produced by Endosulfan exposure in Padre village, of
Kasargode district (N. Kerala),’ had fundamental inconsistencies as was observed
by scientists and experts.
Chemical residue analyses are performed on a sophisticated analytical instrument
known as Gas Chromatography (GC) fitted with an Electron Capture Detector (ECD).
Each GC-ECD has a lower limit for the minimum amount of a chemical that it can
detect. This is expressed as Instrument Detection Limit (IDL). For the study
under question, the NIOH had used GC-ECD (HP Model 6890) with the minimum IDL of
1 part per billion (1 ppb) for Endosulfan. In other words, the instrument used
by the NIOH could not detect Endosulfan residues lower than 1 ppb. Yet, the NIOH
report carries residue findings as low as 0.4 ppb and 0.5 ppb. Simply put, the
residue levels reported by the NIOH fall below the minimum detection limit of
the instrument used. These findings are scientifically indemonstrable, and are
false and incorrect claims.
Since, the raw data recorded by the NIOH for generating Endosulfan residue data
in water, soil and blood samples were fundamentally flawed, its subsequent
analysis is even more peculiar. For instance, the table no. 4 in the report
shows the total Endosulfan (ppb) in six samples as 0.030 ± 0.18. Annexure -8
shows β Endosulfan residues as 0.0005± 0.001. It may be observed here is that
the standard deviation goes beyond the mean (average) by up to 500 per cent.
Modern GC-ECDs are fitted with computers that process the data gathered from the
detectors into chromatograms and finally produce an easy-to-view report. Normal
practices of a residue-testing laboratory require that copies of chromatograms
of analysed samples are retained and stored in the laboratory/computer for
future reference in case of any dispute. Therefore, letters were sent to NIOH
under Right to Information Act (RTI Act) seeking copies of chromatograms
relevant to this study. NIOH did not respond to requests for parting with raw
data until the intervention of the Chief Information Commissioner. The case was
heard at the Information Commission and it took three hearings and two orders by
the Chief Information Commissioner for NIOH’s appellate authority to finally
handover the 1,700 pages of raw data. The varying and inconsistent excuses given
by the NIOH while refusing required information under the RTI Act were revealing
signs of a cover-up. On examining the data, experts learned that the analysis
conducted by NIOH had sure laboratory failings. The conclusions drawn did not
corroborate with the raw data and the complete analysis is now being believed to
Myth: NIOH study is the final report on Endosulfan