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Australian Government Bans Toxic Pesticide Endosulfan

(Beyond Pesticides, October 15, 2010) Reversing previous rulings that claimed that the toxic pesticide endosulfan was “safe,” the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) announced its decision Tuesday to finally cancel the registration of the highly hazardous chemical. Recent assessments by the Australian government’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPC) concluded that the prolonged use of endosulfan is likely to lead to adverse environmental effects via spray drift and run-off, and that these long-term risks could not be mitigated merely through use restrictions or label changes. Australia joins over 60 countries, including to the U.S. to have banned endosulfan.

Endosulfan is an organochlorine insecticide that was first registered for use in the U.S. in the 1950s. It is an endocrine disruptor and exposure in male children may delay sexual maturity and interfere with sex hormone synthesis. Endosulfan also decreases semen quality, sperm count, spermatogonial cells, and sperm morphology, and contributes to other defects in male sex hormones. It is volatile, persistent, and has a high potential to bio-accumulate in aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Two-headed bass, for example, were found in the Noosa River resulting from surrounding pesticide drift from neighboring farms in Queensland, Australia. The pesticides, endosulfan and carbendazim, were implicated in the contamination of the river, which has yielded thousands of chronically deformed fish.

In December 2009, the Stockholm Convention Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) recommended that urgent “global action” was needed to address health and environmental impacts of the toxic pesticide. Scientific experts at the POPRC concluded that endosulfan is likely to cause significant adverse human health and environmental effects as a result of the chemical’s medium- and long-range transport on a global scale and subsequent accumulation in nearly all environmental media.

In June, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would take action to end all uses of the insecticide endosulfan, deciding that new data presented to the agency in response to its 2002 Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED), which shows that risks faced by workers are greater than previously known. In completing revised assessments, EPA concluded that endosulfan’s significant risks to wildlife and agricultural workers outweigh its limited benefits to growers and consumers. EPA also 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.

EPA’s decision followed a lawsuit that was 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.

According to APVMA, endosulfan will be discussed in October 2010 at a scientific advisory meeting of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. This meeting will determine whether to recommend to the Conference of the Parties meeting in April 2011 to globally ban or restrict endosulfan. For more information on APVMA’s decision, see the agency’s Chemicals in the News page.


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