Indian villagers suffer serious health effects from governmental company’s pesticides programme

One of India’s leading environmental NGOs says that it has scientific proof that a government corporation’s pesticide-spraying regime has caused villagers to have levels up to 900 times legal limits in their bloodstream.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says that the results of its laboratory analysis on samples brought from a village in the western touristic state of Kerala have shown “extremely high levels” of the organochlorine pesticide endosulfan in all samples, and has reported that villagers, especially children, have many unusual diseases related to the central nervous system.

Samples ranged from human blood and milk, to soil, water, fruits vegetables, cow’s milk and skin tissue, fish and frogs and were all taken from of the village of Padre in Kasaragod district. One woman’s blood showed 900 times the amount of endosulfan that is permitted in water – the CSE could not find any permissible limit for blood. CSE and local medical staff say that the Plantation Corporation of Kerala, run by the state government, has been spraying endosulfan from helicopters for more than two decades over its cashew plantations on the hills in and around Padre to counter the tea mosquito.

Scientific studies show that endosulfan can affect the unborn child in the womb, and it is easily absorbed by the stomach, lungs and through the skin. It is highly toxic if ingested orally and very toxic when absorbed through skin. Whilst India currently has no legislation limiting the use of endosulfan, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Singapore have all banned the chemical and several other nations have severely restricted its use. The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as highly hazardous and the European Union recently placed the pesticide under review for possible classification as hazardous (see related story)

According to Dr. Mohana Kumar, who has practiced in the area for 19 years, it had been a mystery why so many disorders of the nervous system were reported in the village over the last 10 years. “Cerebral palsy, retardation of mental and, or physical growth, epilepsy and congenital anomalies like stag horn limbs are very common among children,” Kumar said. “There are too many cases of cancer of the liver and blood; infertility and undescended testis among men; miscarriages and hormonal irregularities among women….to name a few. The ailments are largely restricted to people below 20 years.”

“I didn’t expect that the pesticide would show up at all in blood and water as the compound is not readily soluble in water,” the doctor continued. “I had suspected that the unusually high incidence of maladies that I have noticed would be related be related to the pesticide, but I didn’t expect this kind of results. We will surely use these results to in our struggle against this tragedy. Now we have scientific proof to correlate the health effects of endosulfan on human beings.” CSE says that villagers have also complained about the disappearance of bees, frogs and fish from the area immediately after aerial spraying of the pesticide.

The NGO says that the Plantation Corporation of Kerala is still keen on conducting aerial spraying of endosulfan over its plantations, despite vocal protests from the villagers. The district administration has refused to heed to the villagers’ protests and the residents have obtained a stay against aerial spraying from the local court only until the end of February, the organisation says.

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