Ban endosulfan or its wrong use?


by Sreekumar Raghavan
The seven-hour fast by V S Achuthanandan, Chief Minister of the south Indian state of Kerala, for a nation-wide ban on endosulfan has gained global media attention. The use of endosulfan has created congenital ailments and severe birth deformities in Kasargod in North Kerala where more than 5000 people have been affected as well as in some districts of Karnataka. Both states have banned the use of the pesticide while the Central Government is yet to take a firm decision on the issue.

Environmentalists argue that the Union Government is unable to ban endosulfan to protect the interests of the industry. According to Pradip Dave, President of the Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India, Endosulfan is being used by farmers in India, China and Latin American countries and India controls 80% of the global market for endosulfan. The European Union is behind the global move to ban the product as it needs to promote its new patented products which will be expensive for farmers in many countries, Dave said. India accounts for 70% of the world exports of the commodity, according to Dave.

India’s exports of endosulfan are worth US $ 40 million; this is about 70 per cent of the world’s endosulfan trade. India is by far the largest manufacturer of endosulfan, and its production (technical grade) is controlled by three companies- state-owned Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL) and privately owned Excel Crop Care Limited and Coromandel International Limited. Excel Crop Care Limited controls approximately 60 % of the endosulfan production, followed by Coromandel International Limited (approx)25 % and the state-owned HIL with a (approx)15 % market share. Internationally, China and Israel are the other manufactures but there share is very small.

There seems to be significant reasons to link endosulfan with the neurological and other medical disorders reported. But, the pesticide manufacturers have a favourable case when they point out that the pesticide has been used for over 50 years in India with no major health hazards reported other than those related to plantations in Kerala and Karnataka. In cashew plantations in both the states, aerial spraying of endosulfan was adopted to kill the pests which may have contributed to the health disorders reported from these areas.Identical cases of congenital problems, physical deformities, gynaecological problems and cancer have been reported from villages in Dakshin Kanada in Karnataka. The villages- Kokkada, Patrame and Nidle- in Belthangady taluk are the worst affected as nearly 850 hectares in these villages were under the state owned Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation, that aerially sprayed endosulfan for over twenty years

Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation (KCDC) reveals that the amount of endosulfan aerially sprayed between 1980-2000 in 850 hectares in Belthangady and Puttur taluk in Dakshin Kannada district in Karnataka was 32,604 liters (25,788 liters of endosulfan and 6,816 liters of Hildan (another name for endosulfan)). 11,225 liters of endosulfan was also manually sprayed during this period. This spraying affected nearly 20 villages in both the taluks.

A scientific assessment of the issue needs to first probe whether it was the wrong use of endosulfan that led to the health crisis in these areas which includes the method of spraying — in this case the aerial spraying in helicopters. There were media reports of use of endosulfan in mango orchards owned by individuals where the method used was not aerial spraying but through sprayers from the ground. The second major issue that needs to be probed is whether the right quantity of the pesticide was used where adverse health hazards were reported. Kerala Chief Minister has termed endosulfan as a poison to be banned immediately, however, the fact is that every chemical pesticide in use today is a poison and needs to be used with caution and in the right quantities.

On the negative side, endosulfan has been banned in 73 countries including Cambodia and Newzealand while India, along with China and Israel are opposing the ban at the Stockholm Convention.It is indeed depressing to find the pictures of deformed children, babies born in the past decade in Kasargod distrct and in Dakshin Kannada villages in Karnataka.

United Nations experts have recommended that two pesticides – endosulfan and azinphos methyl, one severely hazardous pesticide formulation – Gramoxone Super and three industrial chemicals – perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), its salts and precursors; pentaBDE commercial mixtures; and octaBDE commercial mixtures be added to a trade “watch list” under a UN-backed treaty aimed at helping poorer countries more effectively manage potentially harmful imported substances.

This decision was taken in the Seventh Meeting of the Chemical Review committee held in Rome from 28th March to 1st April ‘ 2011. The recommendations will be forwarded to the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 5) to the Rotterdam Convention in June 2011.

The policy makers and the scientific community needs to immediately address the issues related to use of endosulfan– but of prime importance is the issue whether the pesticides were wrongly used and in higher than normal quantities that led to the health disorders reported from various regions. The second issue is whether alternatives including organic can be used as substitute for endosulfan in which case the industry will be forced to come out with alternatives. The government shouldn’t expose the nation to further health hazards to sustain India’s edge in endosulfan exports but at the same time more scientific studies regarding its usage is required for a convincing case to ban the product worldwide.

(The author is Managing Editor of Commodity Online and the views expressed here are personal)