What is the Kasargod-Endosulfan disaster?

Kasargod Endosulfan-disaster is one of the World’s Worst pesticide disasters. With 1000s of people critically ill, it has long questioned an average Indian’s right to health, safe drinking water, food, and to live!

What is Endosulfan?

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Endosulfan is a pesticide belonging to the organochlorine group of pesticides, under the Cyclodiene subgroup. It was introduced in the 1950’s and it emerged as a leading chemical used against a broad spectrum of insects and mites in agriculture and allied sectors. It is used in vegetables, fruits, paddy, cotton, cashew, tea, coffee, tobacco and timber crops. It is also used as a wood preservative and to control tse-tse flies and termites. The chemical is out of patent and is marketed by many different companies under a variety of names like Agrosulfan, Aginarosulfan, Banagesulfan, Cyclodan, Endocel, Endoson, Endonit, Endomil, Endosol, Endostar, Endodaf, Endosulfer, E-sulfan, Endorifan, Hildan, Redsun, Seosulfan, and Thiodan.

Endosulfan is a highly toxic, ubiquitous environmental pollutant that causes long-term harm to humans and wildlife. It is widely considered to be a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP) and is readily absorbed by stomach, lungs and through the skin.

It has been banned in over 68 countries. Some areas where it is banned are Belize, Singapore, Tonga, Syria, Germany, the USA, the Brazilian state Rondonia, the UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Colombia, and the Indian state Kerala. It is severely restricted in Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Philippines, Lithuania, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Norway, Finland, Russia, Venezuela, Dominica and Canada.

This pesticide is classified as a Highly Hazardous chemical by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Union, as a Persistent Toxic Substance by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), as a Category II - Moderately Hazardous chemical by the World Health Organization (WHO), and as Extremely Hazardous chemical by the Industrial Toxicological Research Centre (ITRC) in India.

However, India is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of Endosulfan.

How did the disaster happen?

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The endosulfan tragedy happened in Kasaragod district of Kerala in India. It is not a well-known tragedy. It is considered by many experts in the field of pesticide toxicity as one of the world’s worst pesticide disasters.

The Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK), a public sector undertaking under the State Government, which owns three cashew plantations covering 4600 hectares in Kasargod, sprayed endosulfan aerially in these plantations for 24 years (1976 to 2000), three times a year. These uninterrupted spraying in spite of several warnings about its disastrous impact on health and environment has resulted in several chronic, critical and life-threatening ailments in the areas surrounding the plantations.

This tragedy occurred because a toxic chemical was used continuously in a populated area with several (open) natural drinking water sources.

What are its impacts?

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Eleven Gram Panchayats covering twelve villages (group and sub-villages) have been severely affected. These villages are Enmakaje, Belur, Kumbadaje, Badiadka, Muliyar, Karadukka, Periya, Pullur, Ajanur, Kallar, Panathady, Kayyur, Cheemeni.

In these villages there is a very high concentration of chronic health complications like Mental, Physical and Behavioral disorders, Sensory loss, Neurological ailments, Cardiovascular diseases, Congenital Anomalies, Dermatological and Musculoskeletal disorders etc.

To see photos of affected persons, click here.

Further reading

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Several national and international agencies have assessed the long-term and short-term impacts of endosulfan poisoning in Kasargod.

These reports are available at http://endosulphanvictims.org/resources.htm