SC extends endosulfan ban

Pesticide makers claim inbreeding, not endosulfan, causing health problems in Kasaragod  

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Monday 15 August 2011

THE Supreme Court has turned down the request of pesticide manufacturers to allow them to export the pesticide stocks in India. The court had banned the sale, manufacture, use and export of the pesticide on May 13 on a petition by the youth wing of the CPI(M), the Democratic Youth Federation of India. While ordering the interim ban, the court had appointed a joint committee to report on the health and environmental impacts of endosulfan. The committee, headed by the director general of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), missed the July 15 deadline for submitting the report.

imageThis gave the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI), a respondent in the case, the opportunity to appeal for immediate relief. In an affidavit filed in the court, PMFAI claimed the health problems in Kasaragod district in Kerala, which triggered the demand for a nation-wide ban on the pesticide, were not because of endosulfan, but because of inbreeding in the area’s population, iodine deficiency and radiation. But the court turned down the plea.

PMFAI’s claims were termed “ridiculous” by Mohammed Asheel, assistant nodal officer of Kerala’s endosulfan rehabilitation project. As for inbreeding, an analysis of the study conducted by the Department of Community Medicine of Calicut Medical College shows that marriage among relations is not a common practice in the affected area, says a member of the joint committee who did not want to be named.

An ICMR funded project sheds light on some of the effects of endosulfan. The details of the study, by a team from Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, was obtained through Right To Information (RTI) by C Nithyananda Pai, convener of non-profit Consumer Welfare Forum based in Karnataka. The RTI reply shows the study concluded that reproductive hormones, like follicle stimulating hormones and testosterone, were significantly reduced in men exposed to endosulfan. The study also revealed higher amount of genetic damage in people exposed to endosulfan as compared to those unexposed to the pesticide. Health activists say this makes people in the area prone to diseases and they pass on the genetic defects to their children. ICMR did not make this study public though it was completed in 2006. V M Katoch, director general of ICMR, says he is not aware of such a report but that he would look into it.

Persistent pollutant

Another report published by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) concludes that endosulfan is present in the soil and sediment samples even 10 years after its aerial spraying was halted in Kasaragod’s cashew plantations.

New deadline
  The Supreme Court bench, headed by chief justice S H Kapadia, said the deci sion on exports or disposing of endosulfan stocks will be taken only after the joint committee submits its interim report and extended the ban on the pesticide. The new deadline for submitting the report is the first week of August. Deepak Prakash, counsel for petitioner, says exports should not be allowed as manufacturers will begin dumping endosulfan in under-developed African and Asian countries where regulations for pesticide use are weak.  
The study was conducted in 11 affected panchayats of the district. Bellur panchayat’s soil samples had the highest endosulfan residue at 25.96 parts per billion (ppb or microgramme per kg). Kallar followed with 20.83 ppb and Pullur periya panchayat with 16.91 ppb residue. Muliyar had the highest endosulfan residue in sediment samples of ponds and valley slopes at 19.69 ppb.

“Endosulfan is persistent in acidic conditions; the laterite soil, temperature and humidity conditions in Kasaragod make the soil acidic. It is a possibility that the pesticide may have entered the food chain,” warns C T S Nair, former executive vice-president of KSCSTE.

The report also concludes that the endosulfan-sprayed area showed a decline in plant diversity between 40 and 70 per cent. Honey bees which were a major source of income for most farmers, completely disappeared during the period of spraying (1977-2000), says the study. It was submitted to Kerala chief minister Oomen Chandy on July 5. The study, though limited in scope, has established a benchmark for studies to monitor the persistence of endosulfan and its long term impact.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.