The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled on Wednesday to end all uses of the insecticide endosulfan.
In light of recent data, the EPA decided that the 50-year-old chemical is too dangerous for farm workers and wildlife. 'Risks faced by workers are greater than previously known,' an EPA statement said.
The international community is currently considering adding endosulfan to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the international treaty that enforces bans on poisonous pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Yesterday's EPA decision may build momentum for a global ban, activists said.
In the United States, endosulfan is used on a variety of vegetables, fruits, and other crops-especially tomato, cantaloupe, potato, apple, and cotton. The insecticide has been linked to mental retardation, birth defects, and death among farm workers, especially in circumstances when the chemical was applied excessively or improperly. Reproductive health effects and kidney failure have also been observed among those exposed at lower concentrations.
Globally, endosulfan is among the most abundant pesticides of its kind found in the Arctic due to its ability to travel long distances via wind and water currents, a characteristic trait of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). As a result, many bird, marine mammal, and fish populations accumulate the chemical in their fat cells, contaminating the traditional foods of Arctic indigenous peoples. 'This is a serious public health and human rights issue. Unless it is phased out globally, levels are likely to increase with climate warming in the Arctic,' said Pamela Miller, director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.
The EPA approved endosulfan as an eligible insecticide as recently as 2002. Since then, new human health and ecological risk assessments and an outside peer review board determined that the chemical poses a risk to human health and wildlife. In 2008, a coalition of environmental and labor groups sued the EPA, claiming the agency was failing to consider all the risks associated with endosulfan.
As part of its new decision to end endosulfan use, the EPA is negotiating with the chemical's main U.S. manufacturer, Makhteshim Agan North America, to voluntarily remove endosulfan products from the market. Other producers, including Bayer, have already chosen to cease making or selling the chemical.
International negotiators will decide at next year's Stockholm Convention summit whether to include endosulfan on the list of internationally banned chemicals. India and China, the most vocal opponents to adding endosulfan to the treaty, have cited the United States' approval of the chemical as justification against a global ban.
The EPA decision leads activists to hope that a global ban may be within grasp. '[The EPA] announcement takes away one of the most powerful talking points of those few countries that are determined to stop a global ban,' said Karl Tupper, Pesticide Action Network North America's staff scientist.
The United States now joins more than 60 countries that have already banned endosulfan, including all 27 members of the European Union as well as Thailand and Sri Lanka.
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