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Endosulfan Found in Bone Marrow of Children with Blood Cancers

(Beyond Pesticides, February 22, 2012) Researchers have found high levels of endosulfan, a highly toxic organochlorine pesticide, in the bone marrow of children, including those suffering from hematological malignancies (blood cancers) in areas using the pesticide. Children who have endosulfan in their bone marrow have 7.5 times more risk of developing blood-related cancer compared to those with no detectable pesticide in the bone marrow. While the findings are based on research in India, the insecticide is still used in the production of dozens of crops in the U.S., even though EPA found that exposure to the chemical exceeds the agency’s acceptable risk criteria and announced in 2010 a six-year negotiated phase-out plan with industry that stretches from 2012 to 2016.

Following a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008, which cited EPA’s glaring omission in not considering risks to children, EPA announced in 2010 that it would, instead of stopping exposure to a known hazard immediately, phase-out over a six year period all uses of endosulfan in the U.S. Rather than regulating a stop use, EPA astounded many in the environmental and public health community by negotiating a long phase-out agreement with manufacturers that allows some uses to continue through 2016. Despite the failure of EPA to act quickly to protect public health, the agency could no longer ignore data in its 2002 Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED), which shows that risks faced by workers are greater than previously acknowledged. 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 for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, as well as birds and mammals that consume aquatic prey that have ingested endosulfan. The crop uses of endosulfan allowed in the U.S. in 2012 through 2016 are found in an EPA document Endosulfan Crop Uses and Last Use Dates.

Endosulfan, a DDT-era pesticide, is one of the most toxic pesticides still in use today. More than 74 countries have already banned endosulfan. However, countries, like India, where this study was conducted have resisted a ban on endosulfan, saying that a ban on the widely used chemical would put the country’s food security at risk and harm the welfare of farmers. However, thousands of Indian villagers, who have become disabled due to the use of the pesticide, pushed for a ban in 2004 and have since joined the global movement to ban endosulfan.

This study, “Pesticide (Endosulfan) Levels in the Bone Marrow of Children with Hematological Malignancies,” published in the journal Indian Pediatrics, involved 26 patients in the age group of one to 15 years with blood related cancer and an equal number of patients suffering from other blood-related disorders, but not cancers. The children were undergoing treatment in hospitals of a medical college in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, India. The study was carried out over an 18-month period from September 2006 to March 2008. All the children who had high endosulfan levels in the bone marrow were from areas, where they were and may still be exposed to the pesticide. Children with blood cancer had elevated levels of endosulfan in the bone marrow compared to those without the disease. Six out of 26 children with blood cancer tested positive for endosulfan in the bone marrow compared to one out of 26 children who did not have blood cancer.

“Greater awareness of the toxic effects and improper use of pesticides needs to be created among the public. Siblings of children with leukemia may need to be screened for pesticide levels to prevent chronic long term exposure in the future,” the authors of the study said.

The endosulfan industry in India is estimated to be worth over $100 million, making it the world’s largest producer, exporter, and user of the product. The three companies that produce the product in India, including one that is partially government-owned, claim that pesticide manufacturers in Europe are driving the push for the ban in an effort to promote their products. However, doctors in India say that over 550 deaths and health problems in over 6,000 people in the region are related to the aerial spraying of the pesticide over cashew farms between 1979 and 2000.

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 appears to interfere with sex hormone synthesis in males aged 10-19 years in a community of cashew plantations in northern Kerala, India. 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. Endosulfan, which continues to be used in the U.S. during a tiered phase-out period through 2016, travels long distances and has been found in Sierra Nevada lakes and on Mt. Everest. It can also migrate to the Poles on wind and ocean currents where Arctic communities have documented contamination, making it one of the most abundant organochlorine pesticides found in the Arctic. It 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.

Last May, endosulfan was finally added to the Stockholm Convention’s list of banned substances. The decision follows recommendations from the December 2009 Stockholm Convention Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC), which call for urgent “global action” 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.

Source: The Daily Mail

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


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