In August 2001, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) asked the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to submit a report on the health hazards due to the spraying of endosulfan in cashew plantations in Kasaragod district within four months. ICMR in turn asked the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, to send a team to Kerala.
A three-member NIOH team -- comprising NIOH director H N Saiyed, deputy director Aruna Dewan and H R Rajmohan of the Regional Occupational Health Centre (ROHC), Bangalore -- visited the district on August 9-11 and then again in September. They had a clear mandate: a cross-sectional environmental epidemiological study to investigate the disease pattern in the affected villages and a control population. The team was headed by Saiyed and comprised members from NIOH, ROHC and the department of pediatrics, Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore. The field study was conducted from September 24 to October 7. In the first phase, blood samples of 262 schoolchildren (170 exposed and 92 control) were collected for detecting endosulfan residues, hormonal analysis, thyroid hormones, sex hormones and cytogenetic studies.
It is significant that the NIOH team decided to select a control group. A control group is comparable with the exposed group in all respects, except for the exposure, which in this particular study was endosulfan.
The NIOH report indicates that endosulfan is the cause for a number of health problems among schoolchildren living in the exposed area. These children had significantly lower intelligence level then the control group. They also had a very high incidence of various sexual disorders when compared to control group (see box: What the report says).
The report was finalised in March 2002, but has been kept confidential. Only a few are privy to the findings. Down To Earth managed to get hold of the report, of which only a few copies are available. Most activists and the media don't have any clue about the findings. "Has this damning report been kept secret because it clearly implicates the pesticide industry," asks Jayakumar C of Thanal, a Thiruvananthapuram-based non-governmental organisation.