Media hype

Director, National Research Centre for Cashew, Puttur, Karnataka says, in his paper circulated by the pesticide association, that inbreeding or wrong medication taken during pregnancy could be responsible

Published: Monday 15 October 2001

Media hype

OVER the past six months, a series of reports have appeared in the media on the 'devastation and misery' caused in Padre village in northern Kerala by 'spraying of endosulfan'. All the reports carried photographs of the same set of unfortunate children born with physical deformities or 'congenital anomalies'.

Congenital anomalies are "birth defects which may be inherited or produced by external factors however, for most anomalies it is not possible to identify the causative mechanism." Not so in Padre village. All the media reports unequivocally blame endosulfan as the causative agent. First sentence it. Evidence and proof of guilt can be found out later...appears to be the pulse.

Research conducted by the plantation corporation scientists in early 1970s had concluded that endosulfan was the best insecticide for saving the cashew crop from the dreaded pest cashew tea moquito bug (TMB). It was also found that aerial spraying was best and the most economical for large plantations.

Even suicides committed in this village are attributed to the spraying of endosulfan. In 1997, Y S Mohana Kumar, a doctor practicing in the village noticed this unusual occurrence of high proportion of congenital deformities. He wrote that the problem could be water itself which might contain a mineral or radioactive substance which is harmful to the brain. Except for the report by CSE, which appeared in Down To Earth, there is no other report indicating such high values of endosulfan residues from anywhere.

The procedure adopted by CSE scientists, certainly looks biased. In any study of this nature, the most logical option would be to collect random samples from people including both healthy and affected. As per the CSE reports, the samples collected from the village such as cow's milk, coconut oil, vegetables contain residues in a very large proportion. If so, the entire village must have been exposed to these products. Then, why are only a few people from 123 houses affected while others remain free from these ailments.

Many of the people affected by these maladies are reportedly related to each other. The possibility of inbreeding by marriage between close relatives over a period of time also could have contributed to the congenital defects. The possibility of use of prohibited medicines during the initial stages of pregnancy can also result in birth defects.

Reports indicate that abnormalities were noticed first in 1981. In 1997, reports of a possible radiation effect were aired but in both the instances very little publicity was given. Surprisingly, in 2001 there is a blitz in the media. The deformities in Padre village is a fact which every one should accept but these media reports are fantasies of individuals which in no way would help poor handicapped children of Padre except to parade them naked in print and visual media before the world. May someone help us to understand the phenomena and the motive behind the wide publicity that has gained?

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