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EPA Moves to End All Uses of Toxic Pesticide Endosulfan

(Beyond Pesticides, June 10, 2010) After years of pressure from environmental and international groups concerned about the chemical’s health effects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencey (EPA) announced that it is taking action to end all uses of the insecticide endosulfan in the United States. EPA has decided that new data presented to the agency in response to its 2002 reregistration eligibility decision (RED) have shown that risks faced by workers are greater than previously known. EPA also has found that there are risks above the agency’s level of concern to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, as well as to birds and mammals that consume aquatic prey which have ingested endosulfan. Farmworkers can be exposed to endosulfan through inhalation and contact with the skin.

An organochlorine insecticide first registered in the 1950s, endosulfan is used on a variety of vegetables, fruits, cotton, and on ornatmental shrubs, trees and vines. It poses unacceptable neurological and reproductive risks to farmworkers and wildlife and can persist in the environment. According to the EPA, crops with the highest use in 2006 – 2008 included tomato, cucurbit, potato, apple, and cotton. The use of endosulfan decreased overall from 2001 to 2008. A restricted use pesticide, endosulfan may be applied only by or under the supervision of a trained, certified applicator. Acute poisoning from endosulfan can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and even death. Studies have linked endosulfan to smaller testicles, lower sperm production, an increase in the risk of miscarriages and autism.

Endosulfan is a potent environmental pollutant and is especially toxic to fish and other aquatic life. It also affects birds, bees, earthworms, and other beneficial insects. Endosulfan is volatile, persistent, and has a high potential to bio-accumulate in aquatic and terrestrial organisms. A large body of scientific literature documents endosulfan’s medium- and long-range transport on a global scale and subsequent accumulation in nearly all environmental media. Through the process of global distillation, endosulfan is present in air, water, sediment, and biota thousands of miles from use areas. Endosulfan travels such long distances that it has been found in Sierra Nevada lakes and on Mt. Everest. This persistent pesticide can also migrate to the Poles on wind and ocean currents where Arctic communities have documented contamination. It is one of the most abundant organochlorine pesticides found in the Arctic, and has also been detected in the Great Lakes and various mountainous areas including the National Parks in the western United States, distant from use sites. Because of its presence in remote locations, endosulfan may be considered a persistent organic pollutant that may result in human exposure via the food web.

EPA began accepting comments on a letter sent from the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in August 2008 requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances for the pesticide endosulfan. The letter was a followed up for a February 2008 petition signed by 13,300 people across the country, a legal petition filed by NRDC that same month, letters sent to the agency on May 19, 2008 signed by 111 nonprofit environmental groups, 55 scientists, and 5 coalitions of Indigenous groups and tribes.

It also followed a lawsuit filed on behalf of environmental and farmworker groups, including Beyond Pesticides on July 24, 2008. The suit cited a glaring omission in the EPA’s decision in its failure to consider risks to children: a 2007 study found that children exposed to endosulfan in the first trimester of pregnancy had a significantly greater risk for developing autism spectrum disorders. It also poses risks to school children in agricultural communities where it has been detected at unsafe levels in the air. In addition, endosulfan has been found in food supplies, drinking water, and in the tissues and breast milk of pregnant mothers.

In December 2009, the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee recommended that urgent “global action” was needed to address health and environmental impacts of the toxic pesticide. After the conclusion of scientific experts at the Stockholm Convention Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) that endosulfan “is likely, as a result of its long-range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health and environmental effects, such that global action is warranted,” a broad coalition of environmental groups sent another letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging EPA to finally take action to ban the use of endosulfan.

The chemical company giant Bayer announced in August 2009 that it will stop the sale of endosulfan by 2010, saying that they will replace the toxic pesticide with ‘safer’ alternatives. Makhteshim Agan of North America, the current manufacturer of endosulfan, is in discussions with EPA to voluntarily terminate all endosulfan uses. EPA states that it is currently working on the details of the decision that will eliminate all endosulfan uses.

For more information, please see Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News archives for endosulfin.

Source: EPA Press Release


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