The word "Endosulfan" has attracted national attention for all wrong reasons with GOI and Kerala Government locking horns regarding the need to ban the manufacture and use of this deadly pesticide in the country. One must admire the the 87 year old Chief Minister of the state for his tenacity in fighting for the cause of his people, many of whom faced the health consequences of using Endosulfan for the last few years, especially in Cashew Plantations in the state. According to him more than 400 people had died due to poisoning from this pesticide while thousands were maimed making their lives miserable. While it was the government led by Congress party that banned the pesticide in 2001, this was lifted by the Marxist government subsequently for reasons not very clear. The issue has come a full a circle with the same government banning the chemical again and now pleading for banning it nationally.
What is shocking is the stand taken by the Central government in opposing any ban nationally while leaving it to the states to do so at local level. The Prime Minister of this great country has the gumption to say that unless proved conclusively that use of Endosulfan is unsafe, he would not support any ban at the national level. The over active Environment Minister who finds fault with every new developmental project from the environmental angle, also is opposing ban on the pesticide for reasons not very clear! About 80 countries have already banned this pesticide while many are phasing it out before eventual banning. The Stockholm Convention in 2009 found Endosulfan to be of questionable safety while the 2010 Convention placed it on a critical list for considering a global ban. The 2011 Convention, meeting end of April this year has declared a global ban against Endosulfan. It is ridiculous that the sole country which defied international opinion happened to be India! Leading a charade the PM has "ordered" the GOI arm for health research, the ICMR to conduct new studies to "prove" Endosulfan is harmless!
Why this reluctance on the part of GOI to ban this dangerous substance within the country? Is it the lobbying power of the 3 or 4 private manufacturers which is influencing the GOI policy? Could it be that its own public sector company Hindustan Pesticides, world's largest producer of Endosulfan is likely to suffer financially, if a ban is imposed? It is interesting that India is the "capital" of Endosulfan, producing almost 90% of this chemical and while using about 4500 tons for domestic agriculture, more than 4000 tons are exported, mainly to China. Besides the agricultural scientists have not yet come up with an alternative to Endosulfan that is cheap and equally effective. Cashew industry which exports most of its products has a heavy stake in protecting its flanks and naturally will oppose any ban on Endosulfan. It is tragic that when there is a reasonable doubt about the safety of a chemical that comes in contact with human beings, GOI is supporting the industry ignoring the interest of the citizens. True, a government committee had reported that global agencies like WHO, FAO, IARC and USEPA never found Endosulfan to be carcinogenic, teratogenic, mutagenic or genotoxic but what about other health disorders besides these dangerous ones?
One can imagine the sufferings of a sizable section of population in the northern parts of Kerala who are exposed to Endosufan tainted environment for decades continuously as Endosulfan toxicity can cause a plethora of symptoms like hyper activity, tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination, staggering, breathing difficulty, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and unconsciousness. While sub-lethal doses can cause significant brain damage, doses as low as 30 mg/kg body weight can be fatal in some cases. If the recorded findings by experts in Kasargod district where large scale cashew plantations exist are to be believed, those working in these plantations and others residing nearby have serious health problems which include delayed sexual maturity amongst boys, frequent birth defects and many other series of health problems.
That Endosulfan is acutely neurotoxic to mammals is well known. There is no universally agreed LD50 value for humans. While WHO has determined it as 80 mg/ kg body weight, USEPA has a lower value of 30 mg/kg body weight. One of the main reasons for the Stockholm Convention for imposing a ban on Endosulfan is the ability of this toxic chemical to transport itself over long distance which has the potential to cause significant adverse human health and environmental effects. Imagine the situation when huge quantities are delivered through aerial spraying, a major part of it dissipating into the environment causing immeasurable damage and Endosulfan and its break-down artifacts having half lives from 9 months to 6 years can have long term effect on human lives. As this organochlorine pesticide is acutely toxic, a bioaccumulator and an endocrine disruptor there is absolutely no justification to continue its use any further. GOI must keep its citizens' interests above any economic considerations.