Wednesday, July 1, 2015

2015 Conference of the Parties in Geneva failed to place some highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) under its global watch

By Chela Vázquez

At 3:45 am Saturday, 16 May 2015 the Conference Of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel (COP 12), Rotterdam (COP 7) and Stockholm (COP 7) Conventions officially closed in Geneva, Switzerland following two weeks of intense negotiations and several hours after the Triple COPs, as they are known, were scheduled to end on Friday.
I among almost 1,200 participants, composed of government delegates and observers from 171 countries, followed the negotiations on regulations of hazardous chemicals and waste. Many of us were hopeful that more hazardous chemicals would be placed under the global watch of the conventions, particularly the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions that regulate the toxic chemicals listed in their Annexes, bearing in mind that the primary objective of the conventions is to protect human health and the environment.
However, the conventions operate largely by consensus among the parties, and just one party can prevent the listing of additional substances to the conventions. As it turned out, some countries opposing new listings of toxic substances did not offer a justification in accordance with the objectives of the conventions.

COP 7 Stockholm Convention resorted to majority vote to list pentachlorophenol, an HHP used for wood preservation
At COP 7 of the Stockholm Convention, which targets persistent organic pollutants (POPs) for global elimination, India opposed the addition of the pesticide pentachlorophenol (PCP) to the convention’ list and questioned the recommendation for listing made by the POPs Review Committee (POPRC), the scientific body of the convention. By the end of the second week after talks had been exhausted, COP 7 resorted to a vote, the first time in the convention’s history, and decided to list PCP and its salts and esters to Annex A of the convention with a time-limited exemption for utility poles and crossarms.
PCP is a ubiquitous global contaminant that has been found in breast milk, blood, amniotic fluid, and other human tissues throughout the world, including Indigenous peoples of the Arctic. It is associated with increased risk of certain cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
COP 7 of the Stockholm Convention also agreed to list the industrial chemicals hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD) to Annex A without exemptions, and polychlorinated naphtalenes (PCNs) to Annex A with a time-limited exemption for use as intermediates in the production of polyfluorinated naphtalenes, including octafluoronaphtalene.

COP 7 of the Rotterdam Convention failed to reach an agreement to apply international trade regulations to dangerous pesticides
Of the pesticides proposed for listing at COP 7 only methamidophos was added in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention, which regulates trade of hazardous chemicals on the principle of Prior Informed Consent
In addition, parties deliberated on the listing of the formulation fenthion ultra-low volume (ULV) at or above 640 g active ingredient/L as a Severely Hazardous Pesticide Formulation (SHPF), the herbicide paraquat dichloride 276 g/L as SHPF, and the active ingredient trichlorfon.
Sudan opposed the listing of fenthion
Sudan’s government representative said that adding fenthion to the Rotterdam Convention could decrease production of the chemical and increase market prices. Fenthion is used in Sudan to kill migratory birds that eat crops, such as millet and sorghum.
Other Sahel countries in the region having the same problem are opting for gentler solutions. Mr. Moussa Abderaman Abdoulaye, Chad’s delegate to the Rotterdam Convention said: “Fenthion was used in Chad until 2011 to combat birds that eat cereals from farms. However, the human health and environmental costs were enormous. Chad banned it, began raising awareness on the toxicity of fenthion and promoting the use of nets to trap birds that are also edible. The use of the nets do not threaten the bird population, it provides food to rural communities, and a source of protein and income.”
The proposal to add fenthion in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention was initially proposed by the Republic of Chad and later reviewed and recommended for listing by the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) of the Convention.
India, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Paraguay opposed the listing of paraquat dichloride
For the second time, paraquat dichloride 276 g/L was blocked from being listed as a SHPF to the Rotterdam Convention. The countries opposing the listing were India, Guatemala, Indonesia and Paraguay.
Baskut Tuncak, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances said “it is legally and morally unjustifiable for countries to continue to obstruct the listing of asbestos and paraquat under the Rotterdam Convention.”
Two years earlier, at COP 6 in 2013 India and Guatemala, both manufacturers of paraquat formulations, blocked this substance from being added to the convention. Guatemala expressed at COP 6 that listing paraquat would affect its exports in the region because countries could take action and stop imports of this toxic chemical.
Burkina Faso initially proposed that paraquat dichloride as SHPF be added to the Rotterdam Convention because of the harm to human health and the environment reported in the country. The CRC reviewed the proposal and recommended it for listing to the COP.  
The active ingredient Trichlorfon was not added to the Rotterdam Convention

The listing of the pesticide trichorfon to the Rotterdam Convention was blocked by India.
Also, the industrial chemical chrysotile asbestos, used to make rooftops in many developing countries, for the 5th time was blocked from being listed to the Rotterdam Convention. Belarus, Cuba, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, and Zimbabwe opposed the listing.  
The effectiveness of the Rotterdam Convention is at stake
Parties and observers attending the COPs questioned the effectiveness of the Rotterdam Convention, whose mission has been undermined by seemingly commercial interests.
Malaysia’s Ms. Fatimah Md. Anwar from the Pesticides Control Division of the Dept. of Agriculture said “We question the effectiveness of the convention if considerations of trade, availability of pesticides and market pricing supersedes the importance of information sharing.”
Also, the undue pressure from the industry was reported by Ecuador who asked that the meeting report reflect its declaration that it has been approached by private sector representatives seeking to persuade countries to oppose listing (re paraquat dichloride), which was “unacceptable.”
Hopes for listing additional hazardous chemicals
On the promising side, COP 7 of the Rotterdam Convention decided to establish an inter-sessional working group to review the cases where consensus on the listing of chemicals was not achieved and to come up with a proposal to improve the effectiveness of the convention. COP 8 in 2017 will decide on the options developed by the inter-sessional working group.
Parties requested technical assistance and support to identify alternatives to HHPs. Dr. Meriel Watts from Pesticide Action Network said “This offers an opportunity for countries to implement agroecological approaches and promote sustainable agriculture and rural development.”
Overall the 2015 Triple COPs adopted over 50 decisions and agreed to convene the next round of chemicals and waste COPs, with a high level segment, in 2017.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

International measures to control Paraquat, once again derailed

By Chela Vázquez

The enforcement of an international mechanism for Prior Informed Consent when trading with a dangerous herbicide, paraquat dichloride, was blocked by India, Guatemala, and Indonesia at the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention. 
 “People in Africa have felt the impact of paraquat dichloride and have paid dearly with their health and lives. This acutely toxic chemical impairs people for life. Listing paraquat dichloride 20% and above in the Rotterdam Convention would empower governments in the exercise of their duty to protect human health and the environment” said Dr. Paul Windinpsidi Savadogo, Director General of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Burkina Faso. He added “This is a missed opportunity and it is regrettable that a few countries prevented the majority from being able to take measures to protect human health, particularly of farmers and agricultural workers, who are the most exposed with this chemical.”

In 2010 Burkina Faso proposed adding the herbicide paraquat dichloride 20% to the Rotterdam Convention in order to have information about potential imports of this herbicide and take pertinent measures, which could include placing restrictions or banning. Burkina Faso reported serious health impacts linked to this chemical among farmers. The scientific body of the Rotterdam Convention reviewed Burkina Faso’s proposal and recommended the inclusion of paraquat dichloride to the convention.

Paraquat dichloride, an acutely toxic chemical

Omara Amuko, based in Uganda, from the International Union of Food and Allied Workers Africa said  “Paraquat dichloride has caused serious harm to farmers and agricultural workers in Africa. This chemicals needs to be under the scrutiny of governments, already CILSS countries have prohibited the use of paraquat in the region.”  The Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS for its acronym in French) banned paraquat in 2011.

 “Paraquat dichloride is an acutely toxic chemical that is used under high risk conditions in developing countries. In India for instance, its use poses great health risks to farmers and workers” said C. Jayakumar from PAN India.

Jayakumar was referring to a new report from India by PAN India and other groups that documented paraquat dichloride being sold in plastic carrying bags, mixed with other ingredients such as shampoo, and applied with leaking knapsack sprayers on crops where its use has not been approved.

“The use of paraquat is not allowed in Switzerland, the European Union and many other countries” said Francois Meienberg from the Berne Declaration. He added “Syngenta, the creator and main seller of paraquat, currently makes profits from its sales to developing countries, knowing that farmers and workers have no possibility to protect themselves adequately which leads to high risk conditions of use and uncounted poisoning cases.”  

India and Guatemala again blocked the inclusion of paraquat dichloride to the Rotterdam Convention

The Conference of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions met in in Geneva on May 4-15, 2015 and deliberated on the listing of new hazardous chemicals to the conventions.  Paraquat dichloride 20% and above was on the Rotterdam COP 7 agenda two years after COP 6 in 2013 failed to reach an agreement on its inclusion to the convention.  Similar to COP 6, at COP 7, India and Guatemala obstructed the inclusion of paraquat dichloride to the convention. This time, Indonesia also joined them.

Most governments at COP 7 of the Rotterdam Convention were in favor of adding this highly hazardous pesticide to the Convention. The Prior Informed Consent procedure of the Convention would allow governments to exchange information and more effectively control the use of this chemical in order to protect the health of their most vulnerable citizens.

Many government delegates attending the meeting in Geneva took the floor to express concern that a handful of governments using the consensus procedure under the convention prevented other countries from their right to having information on trade of hazardous chemicals. They called for urgent review of the rules of the Rotterdam Convention.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Monsanto’s popular herbicide, glyphosate, linked to cancer and antibiotic resistance

By Chela Vázquez

 The world is scrutinizing Monsanto’s popular weed killer, glyphosate, classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the cancer arm branch of the World Health Organization (WHO).

On March 20, 2015 seventeen global health experts met at WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to discuss years of data linking glyphosate and cancer in experimental animals, and concluded that it probably causes cancer in humans as well. Four other organophosphate insecticides also were evaluated.

IARC’s decision on glyphosate came on the heels of a study released by scientists from New Zealand that linked the herbicides glyphosate, 2,4-D, and dicamba to antibiotic resistance in disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Widespread use of glyphosate in Asia and around the world

Glyphosate, also known as Roundup for its tradename with Monsanto, is the most common and heavily used herbicide worldwide.

In Asia glyphosate is used in rubber, oil palm, sugar cane, tea, and hybrid corn plantations. It is also used on soybeans, cotton, rice, and wheat among other crops.

Monsanto created and marketed glyphosate as Roundup. After Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000, many agrochemical companies manufacture it under different commercial names. Over 700 glyphosate formulations are used globally.

China has become the largest glyphosate supplier in the world, with production over half a million tons, mostly for export.

Implications to human health

“Glyphosate is widely used in Asia, often with minimal protection. The people mostly impacted are farmers, agricultural workers, women and children” said Sarojeni Rengam from PAN Asia Pacific. “Therefore, the health implications of carcinogenicity and antibiotic resistance linked to glyphosate are enormous”. 

 In addition to exposure during pesticide spraying, pesticide storage creates health hazards. For instance, a 2011 field appraisal on the use of pesticides in Lao PDR, PAN Asia Pacific found glyphosate originating from China, in 15 and 30 liter plastic tanks, stored at home in close proximity to cooking and sleeping facilities. Pesticide shops also sold glyphosate and other pesticides close to food items.

Governments should take measures to remove this highly hazardous pesticide from the farming communities.

 Increased use of glyphosate with genetically engineered crops

Monsanto also genetically engineered (GE) soybeans, corn, and cotton resistant to glyphosate, and multiplied its revenues by selling both GE seed and glyphosate. Monsanto’s US$15.9 billion annual sales are closely tied to glyphosate.

Because weeds developed resistance to glyphosate, increasing amounts of the herbicide are applied in combination with old and dangerous herbicides, such as 2,4-D, which was used as an ingredient of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Strong global response is needed

The IARC’s labeling of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen to humans has sent ripple waves around the world. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), which registers and regulates pesticides for use in agriculture, has announced that it will require a weed resistance management plan for glyphosate from Monsanto, which includes monitoring for weed resistance.

PAN Asia Pacific and PAN International have called on governments to exercise their political will to protect people and the environment, and have demanded a plan in the next 60 days to address the use of highly hazardous pesticides and a way to move forward towards sustainable, healthy methods of agricultural production.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cameron Highlands Waters Tainted with Pesticides

By Chela Vázquez

Once again Cameron Highlands in Malaysia takes the stage for the dubious honor of being a highly polluted place. Here, vegetables are grown for export and for internal consumption across the country and overseas markets, raising concerns about the safety of the food produced and consumed in Malaysia.

Researchers from University Kebangsaan Malaysia over a 5-month study, August-December 2014, in Cameron Highlands of the surface waters of two rivers, Bertam and Terla, and tap water in the town of Brinchang, have found residues of highly toxic organochlorine pesticides (OCs). These results were presented at a seminar with government officials and the general public in Cameron Highlands on March 6, 2015. A local organization, REACH, and Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific co-hosted the event.

 Potential Health Impacts

“The people of Cameron Highlands have the right to know about poisons present in the water they drink. Furthermore, consumers in Malaysia must know about pesticide residues found in their food” said Sarojeni Rengam from PAN Asia Pacific.

The highly toxic pesticide residues found on surface water and in the drinking water of pipes, sends alarming signals about the long-term human health impact in Brinchang and other towns which depend on the same sources for drinking water.

OCs have affinity for fat tissue and are found in most living organisms. Their ability to adhere to soil particles and affinity to fat tissue facilitate their long-range transport across the globe. They are infamous for their presence in places where they have never been produced nor used. In pristine environments like the Arctic, even the polar bears have OCs in their bodies, and breastmilk of indigenous women in Alaska contain OC concentrations that are among the highest in the world.

OC chemicals are known for their adverse health impact at low dose of exposure over log periods of time because they bioaccumulate inside living organisms. They are known endocrine disruptors, capable of mimicking hormones such as estrogen. In lab animals and wildlife exposed to OC chemicals, birth defects, behavioral abnormalities, impaired fertility have been observed in the offspring of parents exposed to these chemicals, indicating hormonal disruption during prenatal development.

Illegal Pesticides

Most of the pesticide residues were breakdown products belonging to the insecticides endosulfan, aldrin, methoxychlor, eldrin, lindane, DDT, and heptachlor oxide, which have been banned in Malaysia years ago. OC chemicals are persistent and adhere to soil particles, therefore their presence in water might originate from their leaching out of the soil. However, the presence of undegraded endosulfan II in water, suggests application of this insecticide on agricultural fields around a year ago.

At the meeting in Cameron Highlands, Mr. Rama from REACH, presented to the press several illegal pesticides, that ranged from labels in foreign language, repackaged pesticides sold in bags with poor labeling, and methomyl, an insecticide classified by the World Health Organization as class 1 because of its high toxicity. Methomyl has never been registered in Malaysia.

This study only measured OC pesticides in water. It did not test for the presence of organophophorus compounds, carbamates, pyrethroids, fungicides, and toxic herbicides, which are also known to be in high use in Cameron Highlands.

Further Research and Action are needed

The OC findings in Cameron Highlands’ waters point to the need to obtain more information on the presence of pesticide residues in water and also on food. This would be an exercise on the public Right to Know on matters that affect their health and particularly the development of young children.

Regarding the presence of illegal toxic pesticides, it calls for urgent action to prevent further poisoning the environment and endangering human health. Additionally, monitoring of human health, particularly of agricultural workers and farmers is needed. Finally, implementing policies to assist farmers to move towards safer ecological methods in agriculture, free of toxic chemicals, would be crucial to protect human health and the environment.