Endosulfan is a pesticide which was introduced in the 1950s and soon became a leading chemical to fight a broad spectrum of insects. The out-of-patent pesticide is marketed under several names across the world. The most common of these names is Thiodane. It is used in paddy, cotton, vegetables, fruits, cashew, tea, coffee and a wide range of other crops. Because of its effectiveness against termites, it is also used as a wood preservative. The pesticide works as a contact and stomach poison for the insects. Household use of the pesticide is discouraged because of its poisonous nature. It is extremely toxic to fish and other marine life.
Endosulfanis a diastereomeric mixture of two isomers i.e. alpha-endosulfan (64-67%) and beta-endosulfan (29-32%). in the ratio 7:3 along with some impurities. It belongs to the organochlorine group of pesticides, under the Cyclodiene subgroup with chemical formula C9H6Cl6O3S. It has chemical name – 6,7,8,9,10,10- hexa chloro- 1,5,5a,6,9,9a- hexahydro– 6,9- methano- 2,4,3-benzodioxathiepine -3-oxide. The U S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies endosulfan as Category Ib – Highly Hazardous. The European Union also rates it Highly Hazardous.World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies endosulfan in Category II – Moderately Hazardous.The Industrial Toxicological Research Centre (ITRC) in India the nodal centre for the Regional Based Assessment of Persistent Toxic Substances (PTS) for the Indian Ocean region by the United Nations Environment Programme-Global Environment Facility (UNEP-GEF) classifies endosulfan as Extremely Hazardous. The pesticide belongs to a family of organic compounds known as organochlorines. These chemicals are classified among the worst of POPs (persistent organic pollutants). It breaks down into endosulfane sulphate and endosulfane diol, both having an estimated half-life which ranges from 60 to 800 days depending on the concentration. Earlier, it was believed that, unlike other POPs which can travel across the globe, the pesticide tends to remain in the region of its use.
However, some recent studies have indicated its long range atmospheric transport. The pesticide is found in some national parks in the US, which are far from the regions where it was used. The highly toxic pesticide could have lethal effects if it is inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Oral toxicity is far more than dermal (absorption through skin). Ingestion or breathing high levels of the pesticide could also cause death. It is particularly harmful for people of the developing world as their diet is often deficient in protein. There is also evidence of chronic effects on human beings. In some cases, the pesticide could have an adverse impact on the male reproductive system as it can cause a delay in sexual maturity or interfere with the process of sexual hormone synthesis. The pesticide disrupts the endocrine system and could cause hypo-thyroidism. In some cases, it is also linked with increased risk of breast cancer. These studies, however, have their own limitations as there are very few proper studies on the long term impact of the pesticide.
According to a working paper of The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), the pesticide was found in food, soil, air and body tissues from almost all parts of the world. Apart from India, the pesticide has contaminated the soil and water of Pakistan, China, the Philippines, Spain, Portugal, Nigeria, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the US, Canada and even some parts of the Arctic region. Food samples from across the world have also shown residues of the pesticide. The pesticide is also found in human tissues as breast milk from parts of Egypt, Colombia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, sub-Saharan Africa and Spain. An alarmingly high level of the pesticide is found in human blood and breast milk in Kerala.
Nearly half of the world’s countries have either banned the pesticide or have announced phase-outs. The list includes the European Union, US, Brazil, Canada, Pakistan, most of the Middle East and Far East and West Africa. It’s not banned in India and China. These countries, constituting about one-third of the world’s population, are also among the largest users of the pesticide. In India, the pesticide is banned in Kerala and Karnataka and other state governments are considering similar action. However, even a ban is not working in favour of the thousands of people of Kerala’s Kasaragod district, among the world’s worst Endosulfan-hit regions, as it is fairly easy to smuggle the pesticide from other states.
Banning endosulfan would not solve the problems of Indian farmers as pesticides are a basic need for them to improve crop productivity. We have to look for an alternative pesticide which is as cheap as endosulfan and with lesser bad environmental and health impacts. Previously producing endosulfan came under the patent rules but it is now off patent and that’s the reason many people feel that rich industrialized countries mostly EU have been supporting this ban in India so that they can sell their even costlier alternatives in Indian market.
A month long active campaign against Endosulfan the killer pesticide that has affected over 9000 victims and killing more than 1000 in Kasargode, Kerala and Southern Karnataka over 25 years) initiated by the Peoples’ Solidarity Concerns – Bangalore (a forum of different activist,human rights and political groups which includes the New Socialist Alternative- CWI India). We, as a students and faculty members, why can’t we join our hands to eradicate endosulfan from India?
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