Studies insufficient to nail culprit

Dr K M SreekumarAll the relatives of this chemical like Aldrin, Dieldrin, Heptachlor, Endirin were banned long ago due to high toxicity and persistence in the environment. A research article reported that fish at the lower tropic levels in the Everglades Lake retained endosulfan in tissues and passed it on to the wading birds that feed on them showing the property of bioaccumulation. (Ecotoxicology, October, 2008).

Previous studies have detected low levels of endosulfan in Arctic animals’ tissues, a key indicator of vapourisation  and biomagnification (Science of Total Environment, July, 2010). Some other studies have detected traces of endosulfan in breast milk. (Human reproduction Journal, January, 2008 ). Bayer company, the original manufacturer and patent holder of this chemical, submitted the data to EPA in 2006, which showed evidence of neurotoxicity in rats and toxicity at low levels in the foetuses of pregnant rats. These reasons are sufficient to prove that this chemical is a persistent organic poison with biomagnifying properties that warrant worldwide ban.

The argument in support of endosulfan is that it is the cheapest and effective molecule without any alternative. So a ban may make the farming costlier for the poor farmer. This is not true. Without affecting the agricultural production, the chemical pesticide consumption can be further reduced (Birthal, 2003). National level Integrated Pest Management demonstrations in cotton have shown that productivity can be increased with great reduction in pesticide consumption. There are many new molecules which are environmentally friendly and effective.

Circumstantial evidence on the health problems in Kasargod has shown that endosulfan is the culprit because the same chemical was sprayed twice a year for 20 years continuously, violating the stipulations of aerial spraying. So the victims may be suitably compensated and rehabilitated in which the Central Government should also play a major role.

However, only few studies on the health problems in Kasargod district are worth mentioning. They are the study by KSSP district committee, NIOH study and a study by Dr Jayakrishnan of Calicut Medical College. KSSP conducted the field survey of health status of 4,012 people of 746 houses in Cheemeni, Panathoor, Rajapuram, Periye, Kottor, Muliyear and Enmakaje villages which are around the Plantation Corporation of Kerala estates, in 2001. In all the villages except Enmakaje, the health problems were found to be comparable and around state average.

When the morbidity in Enmakaje is 108, in all other villages it is 52 and the state average is only 63.6. In Enmakaje, 36% people depend on horizontal well (suranga) for drinking water whereas in other villages only 6% of people depend on it. So, does suranga water cause more morbidity?

Morbidity survey

The Sivaraman committee compared 80,000 people each from the sprayed and non-sprayed areas by pooling the data from medical camps. Analysis shows that the ratio for cancer, infertility, repeated abortions and other problems is higher in the sprayed area whereas physical disabilities are more in unsprayed area. But, analysis of individual estate data shows that in Karadkka, Periya and Muliyar, unsprayed area have more morbidity than sprayed area.

NIOH has recommended epidemiology study of all the villages around all the estates. The Achuthan Committee also recommended the same. Dr Sandhya Kulshreshta and Dr Brijendra Singh who disagreed with the Dubey committee also recommended it.  But nobody has conducted this till date.

Unanswered questions

Several questions beg answers:

*Which are the diseases prevalent in Kasargod area? How do they compare with the state average?

*How did the diseases/disorders which are above state average spread in the district? Whether such diseases are more in the sprayed area compared to unsprayed area and during the sprayed period compared to unsprayed period?

*There are 292 houses inside the plantation estates and 2,026 houses very near. What is the frequency of these diseases in these houses?

*Whether there is any rare disease in Kasargod district?

*There are around 1000 labourers (both working and retired) of PCK living around the estates. These labourers were more exposed to endosulfan than the general public. What is the prevalence of the diseases among this population?

*There are factories and formulation centres in the country like Hindustan insecticides, Excel industries, Coromandal.  where hundreds of workers are working. These people are more exposed to the chemical than Kasargod inhabitants. What is the morbidity status of these people and their families and how is it compared with the general population of Kasargod?

*Endosulfan was aerially sprayed in Alakode and Aralam estates in Kannur and Mannarcaud in Palakkad district. The farmers of Iritty area of Kannur sprayed the chemical from the ground for long years. Whether health issues prevalent in Kasargod are present in these areas also?

*What is the relation between the diseases and the drinking water sources, the distance between the houses and the estates, income status, socio economic status of the people etc. and the morbidity rate?

*I still doubt whether the drinking water from these areas were tested during dry summer months for toxic principles, heavy metals etc.

*In Dr Jayakrishnan’s report, the highest residue of endosulfan in victim’s blood is 117ppb whereas in NIOH report it was 9 ppb only. This is intriguing because NIOH has made the observation 9 months after the spray whereas Dr Jayakrishnan has taken the data 10 years after the spray. During the interim period, fresh application of endosulfan was not done at all. Then how come it is ten times higher after 10 years of spray?

It is quite intriguing that a well-designed epidemiology study was not conducted even after a lapse of 10 precious years.  If a clear-cut pattern arises out of the studies, that will be sufficient to claim compensation from the Bayer company who is the manufacturer of the chemical. Science and the truth are the best tools for furthering the case of the affected people.

(The author is associate professor, Padnekkad College of Agriculture,
Kasargod and member of  Kerala Agricultural University Commission and KSSP study team.)

Endosulfan is sold to farmers under different names. When students of Socio Cultural Research Centre, Canara College went on a survey of endosulfan victims, they found a bottle of Endosiri (Endosulfan) being used in a vegetable garden of a former gram panchayat president. The GP head had tied an empty bottle of endosulfan to a creeper in the belief that its smell will ward off pests.

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