(Beyond Pesticides, August 2, 2012)
Following the phase-out announcement two years ago, and after many years of pressure from environmental and international groups concerned about the chemical’s health effects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally begun the process of phasing out the use of the highly toxic endosulfan an organochlorine insecticide in the same chemical family as DDT. The phase of endosulfan uses began on July 31, 2012 and will continue through July 31, 2016.
In 2010, EPA negotiated a long phase-out agreement with endosulfan’s manufacturers that allows uses to continue through 2016, even though EPA concluded that endosulfan’s significant risks to agricultural workers and wildlife outweigh its limited benefits to growers and consumers, and 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. This is an egregious example of how EPA uses phase out and existing stock provisions in negotiating with industry on removing known hazards from the market, placing economic interests over the protection of public health.
In 2010, EPA decided that data presented in response to its 2002 reregistration eligibility decision (RED) demonstrated that risks faced by workers are greater than previously known. 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 that have ingested endosulfan. Farmworkers can be exposed to endosulfan through inhalation and contact with the skin.
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.
As of July 31, 2012, over 30 crop uses plus use on ornamental trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants have been discontinued. About 12 other crop uses will end over the following four years. Of these 12, the last 4 endosulfan uses will end on July 31, 2016. During the phase-out, after the determination of hazard, EPA requires no special warning to those who use or are exposed to the chemical. To see the list of crop uses and last use dates, see EPA’sEndosulfan Pesticide Registration page.
Endosulfan use that will will continue through July 31, 2013, include: pears; through December 31, 2014, include All Florida uses of: (only Florida uses) apple, blueberry, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn, tomato, winter squash; through July 31, 2015, include (nationwide) All Florida uses of: apple, blueberry, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn, tomato, winter squash; through July 31, 2016, include livestock ear tag, pineapple, sStrawberry (perennial/biennial), vegetable crops for seed (alfalfa, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip).
Acute poisoning from endosulfan can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and even death. Studies have linked endosulfan to smaller testicles, lower sperm production, an increase in the risk of miscarriages and autism. It is also a potent environmental pollutant and is especially toxic to fish and other aquatic life, and affects birds, bees, earthworms, and other beneficial insects.
Endosulfan is volatile, persistent, and has a high potential to bio-accumulate in aquatic and terrestrial organisms. A large body of scientific literature documents endosulfan’s medium- and long-range transport on a global scale and subsequent accumulation in nearly all environmental media. The International Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee recommended that urgent “global action” was needed to address health and environmental impacts of the toxic pesticide in 2009. After the conclusion of scientific experts at the Stockholm Convention Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) that endosulfan “is likely, as a result of its long-range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health and environmental effects, such that global action is warranted,” a broad coalition of environmental groups sent another letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging EPA to finally take action to ban the use of endosulfan.