Agri Business

An end to endosulfan?

| Updated on: Apr 24, 2011

The current furore in Kerala over the pesticide endosulfan swings the spotlight on to the larger issue of persistent organic pollutants, the subject of the Stockholm Convention.

On 25 April, the Fifth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention, will begin at the Geneva International Conference Centre in Geneva, Switzerland. Far away, the citizens of Kerala will look to that meeting with more than mere anxiety — for at stake is the fate of a pesticide, endosulfan, now the bane of contention in this green State.

POPs

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), better known as the POPs treaty or the Stockholm Convention, is a legally binding international agreement finalised in 2001 to protect human health and the environment from some of the most dangerous chemicals on earth. Governments, party to the Stockholm Convention, have agreed to take action to reduce or eliminate the production, use, and/or release of certain of these pollutants.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), POPs are chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment, including through long-range transport. The Stockholm Convention specifically lists 12 POPs under three Annexes. Billed the “Dirty Dozen,” these are classified differently. The nine POPs listed in Annex A are destined for elimination with specific, time-limited exemptions. They include the agricultural chemicals aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, and toxaphene, as well as the industrial chemicals hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Those listed in Annex B are subject to restrictions on production and use, but are eligible for specific exemptions for acceptable purposes. Annex B contains just one substance, the pesticide DDT . Annex C contains POPs that are unintentionally produced, for example, as industrial byproducts and combustion processes. Four of the Dirty Dozen POPs are listed under Annex C: polychlorinated dioxins, polychlorinated furans, PCBs, and HCB.

POPs have been linked to various diseases or abnormalities in a number of wildlife species, including certain kinds of fish, birds, and mammals. Wildlife also often predict the course of human health: abnormalities or declines detected in wildlife populations can sound an early warning bell for people.

POPS have been known to affect the reproductive, developmental, behavioural, neurologic, endocrine, and immunologic parameters of human beings, mainly through exposure to contaminated foods. Other exposure routes include drinking contaminated water and direct contact with the chemicals. In people and other mammals alike, POPs can be transferred through the placenta and breast milk to developing offspring.

At its sixth meeting last year, the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee, a scientific body established under the Stockholm Convention on POPs, agreed to adopt the risk management evaluation for endosulfan and recommended listing endosulfan in Annex A of the Convention, with specific exemptions, a move that would lead to its elimination from the global market.

Given these global concerns — and the media exposure of the damage caused to lives in the northern parts of Kerala, where endosulfan was aerially sprayed on cashew plantations — there is little doubt that a good, hard second look is called for.

As pioneering conservationist Ms Rachel Carson said, “The current vogue for poisons has failed utterly to take into account these most fundamental considerations.

As crude a weapon as the cave man's club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life — a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways.”

(The writer can be contacted at >kgkumar@gmail.com )

Published on March 12, 2018

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