by Anna Soref
A coalition of farm worker, public health and environmental groups has filed a lawsuit asking the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of the pesticide endosulfan. The chemical, an organochlorine in the same family as DDT, is already banned in the European Union and 20 other nations.
"This dangerous and antiquated pesticide should have been off the market years ago," said Karl Tupper, a staff scientist with San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network. "The fact that EPA is still allowing the use of a chemical this harmful shows just how broken our regulatory system is."
Approximately 1.38 million pounds of endosulfan are used annually, according to the EPA. Crops commonly treated with the chemical include cotton, melons, squash, tomatoes and tobacco. Children and infants are particularly vulnerable to endosulfan poisoning, according to Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm in Oakland, Calif. It cites research demonstrating that the pesticide is associated with autism, brain damage and delayed sexual maturity. Endosulfan residue is found in food supplies, drinking water and in the tissues and breast milk of mothers.
Additionally, the pesticide can harm wildlife, particularly fish and other aquatic animals, and has been detected in the tissues of many mammals, including polar bears and whales. So why hasn’t EPA banned the chemical? "I couldn’t even begin to speculate," said Mae Wu, a staff attorney for the National Resource Defense Council in Washington, D.C. "It’s been banned all around the world; a ban here would not pose significant problems. It would cost farmers pennies and the EPA did its own analysis and found that alternatives are readily available," she said.
For example, if endosulfan were banned, tobacco production would lose about $4 million in a $2 billion industry and the cotton industry would lose roughly $216,000 to $3.8 million, Wu said.
Wu said the NRDC is hoping the EPA will take it upon itself to ban the chemical because the legal course could take years.