endosulfan pesticide

Once upon a time in the villages of Kasargod, Kerala India, things went crazy, children were born with deformities, many animals died, snakes disappeared, bees never returned ………… the wrath of ENDOSULFAN had begun. Before we get into the details of this tragedy, let’s begin knowing the villain..  

What is Endosulfan?

Endosulfan is a widely used organochlorine insecticide and acaricide.  It is practically water-insoluble, but readily adheres to clay particles and persists in soil and water for several years.

How toxic is it?

It is carcinogenic, neurotoxic and genotoxic (damages DNA). It has been responsible for many severe poisonings and several fatal cases. Symptoms of acute poisoning include hyperactivity, tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination, staggering, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, unconsciousness. Doses as low as 35 mg/kg have been documented to cause death in humans. Ms. Theo Colborn, Founder and President Emerita of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) listed endosulfan as a known endocrine disruptor. Numerous in vitro studies have documented its potential to disrupt hormones and animal studies have demonstrated its reproductive and developmental toxicity.

What are the health Impacts of Endosulfan?

Nervous System : Hyperexcitability, tremors, and convulsions and death.

Reproductive System: Puberty delayed in boys. Infertility among men. Girls attain menstruation early. Menstrual disorders are frequent. Has estrogenic effects. Birth defects in offspring of animals ingesting endosulfan during pregnancy. A 2007 study by the California Department of Public Health found that women who lived near farm fields sprayed with
Endosulfan and the related organochlorine pesticide dicofol during the first eight weeks of pregnancy are several times more likely to give birth to children with autism.

Skin effects: Farm workers with chronic Endosulfan exposure are at risk of rashes and skin irritation

Other Systemic Effects: Affects the kidneys & liver. It inhibits leukocyte & macrophage migration. It damages RBC. It causes mutations in mammals & may induce mutations. It is also a potential tumor promoter.

What are the environmental impacts of Endosulfan?

Endosulfan is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant which is semivolatile and persistent to degradation processes in the environment. It is subject to long-range atmospheric transport, i.e. it can travel long distances from where it is used. Endosulfan has been found in remote locations such as the Arctic Ocean, as well as in the Antarctic atmosphere. The pesticide has also been detected in dust from the Sahara Desert collected in the Caribbean after being blown across the Atlantic Ocean. The compound has been shown to be one of the most abundant organochlorine pesticides in the global atmosphere. It also negatively impacts populations of beneficial insects.

Which countries have banned Endosulfan?

Because of its threats to human health and the environment, a global ban on the manufacture and use of Endosulfan was negotiated under the Stockholm Convention in April 2011. The ban has taken effect in mid-2012, with certain uses exempted for five additional years. More than 80 countries including the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, several West African nations, the United States, Brazil, and Canada had already banned it or announced phase-outs by the time the Stockholm Convention ban was agreed upon. It is still used extensively in India, China despite laws banning it.

Endosulfan in India

Endosulfan is sold under the brand names of THIONEX, ENDOCIL,  PHASER, BENZOEPIN etc. Although classified as a yellow label (highly toxic) pesticide by the Central Insecticides Board, India is one of the largest producers and the largest consumer of Endosulfan in the world. Of the total volume manufactured in India, three companies – Excel Crop Care, Hindustan Insecticides Ltd, and Coromandal Fertilizers — produce 4,500 tonnes annually for domestic use and another 4,000 tonnes for export. Endosulfan is widely used in most of the plantation crops in India.

Chronology of endosulfan Havoc in Kasaragod, Kerala

endosulfan tragedy
  1. Since 1976 in Kasaragod District, Endosulfan was sprayed with helicopters in the cashew plantations three times every year. The aerial spraying was allegedly undertaken to contain the menace of the tea mosquito bug. Just after three years, the ill effects of Endosulfan spraying came to notice. As early as 1979, stunted growth and deformed limbs were noticed among newborn calves.
  2. By 1990’s health disorders of very serious nature among the human population came to the limelight. Children were found to be the worst affected with congenital anomalies, mental retardation, physical deformities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, hydrocephalus etc. Men and women were also affected with various chronic ailments, many irreversible and difficult to treat. There was a high incidence of disorders of the central nerves system, Cancer and reproductive disorders.
  3. 1994: Issue came forth to public attention and social activists sent complaints to all government officials
  4. In 1998 protest emerged as a mass movement
  5. In 2000 District court banned Endosulfan in Kasaragod
  6. In 2002 High court of Kerala banned the use and sale of Endosulfan in the state.
  7. In 2003 The National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) substantiated the health problems.
  8. In 2004 then opposition leader, VS Achuthananthan deployed his staff to collect available materials and consequences.
  9. In 2011 VS Achuthanathan led mass fast to ban Endosulfan completely. The same year, Geneva conference decided for global ban On May 13, 2011 Supreme court banned Endosulfan

Conclusion: Endosulfan is hard to degrade pesticide which has caused heavy damages to biotic and abiotic factors of Kasargod. Plantation corporation dared to administrate it on cashew with the mirage of Commercial profit. The use of Endosulfan gave only a temporary yield but lasted with many congential abnormalities, neurological disorders, abortions, epilepsy and other diseases which persists for the generations. The government needs to focus more on rehabilitating the victims of
Endosulfan with health, medical, educational, and overall care. And it is time for all of us to think and act upon for a safer and healthier pest management method.

Udayan Arya

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