Enviro-Labor Coalitions Challenge Two Toxic Pesticides; (Environment News Service, Jul 31 2008)
Environment News Service
California, July 31, 2008
(ENS) – This has been the week for going after pesticides in court. Since
Thursday, July 24, two coalitions – with many of the same member groups – have
filed two federal lawsuits challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
for allowing the continued use of organochlorine pesticides.
These two organochlorine chemicals – endosulfan and diazinon – are persistent
in the environment and poison humans and wildlife in agricultural areas where
they are applied and also can travel by wind and water to poison others in
regions far away.
"EPA's system for protecting the public from the dangers of pesticides like
diazinon is broken," said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney in the San Francisco office of
Earthjustice, the public interest law firm that represents both coalitions.
"The agency should be protecting farmworkers and children, not the profits
of pesticide manufacturers."
Last Thursday, a lawsuit seeking to stop the use of endosulfan was brought
by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice on behalf of – Alaska Community Action
on Toxics, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Environmental Health, Farm Labor
Organizing Committee (AFL-CIO), Natural Resources Defense Council, Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, Pesticide
Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, and Teamsters Local 890.
Endosulfan is an organochlorine, part of the same family of chemicals as
DDT, which the EPA banned in 1972. Crops commonly treated with endosulfan
include cotton, tomatoes, melons, squash, and tobacco.
Acute poisoning from endosulfan can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting,
convulsions, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and even death. Studies have
linked endosulfan to smaller testicles, lower sperm production, and an increase
in the risk of miscarriages.
"This dangerous and antiquated pesticide should have been off the
market years ago," said Karl Tupper, a staff scientist with Pesticide Action
Network. "The fact that EPA is still allowing the use of a chemical this
harmful shows just how broken our regulatory system is."
The coalition claims that the EPA has failed to consider the risks to
children. A 2007study found that children exposed to endosulfan in the first
trimester of pregnancy had a significantly greater risk for developing autism
It also poses risks to school children in agricultural communities where it
has been detected at unsafe levels in the air.
In addition, endosulfan has been found in food supplies, drinking water, and
in the tissues and breast milk of pregnant mothers.
"EPA has failed to protect children and endangered species from
endosulfan poisonings," said Osborne-Klein. "We call on EPA to ban
the use of endosulfan in the United
Endosulfan is especially toxic to fish and other aquatic life, the coalition
charges, adding that the pesticide also affects birds, bees, earthworms, and
other beneficial insects.
Osborne-Klein cites a recent federal study finding that national parks from Texas to Alaska
are contaminated with endosulfan in amounts that threaten ecosystems and
Endosulfan has been found in Sierra Nevada lakes and on Mt. Everest.
"This persistent pesticide can also migrate to the Poles on wind and ocean
currents where Arctic communities have documented contamination," the
According to EPA data, approximately 1.38 million pounds of endosulfan were
used annually in the United
States as of 2002, the most recent year for
which national usage data are available.
"The science clearly shows that the use of this chemical puts the
health of exposed farmworkers and children in agricultural communities at
risk," said Erik Nicholson of United Farm Workers. "There's plenty of
evidence and no need for more studies – we're demanding that EPA take action
On Monday, another coalition with many of the same member organizations
filed a federal lawsuit challenging the EPA's decision to allow continued use
The lawsuit is part of the coalition's multi-year campaign to protect
children, farmworkers, and wildlife from the most dangerous pesticides and
"to reform EPA's lackadaisical regulation of public and environmental
health," the coalition said in a statement.
The coalition has filed a series of lawsuits targeted at the worst poisons
on the market – diazinon is near the top of that list.
The lawsuit against diazanon was brought by Earthjustice, Farmworker
Justice, and California Rural Legal Assistance on behalf of – Beyond
Pesticides, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (AFL-CIO), Northwest Treeplanters
and Farmworkers United, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm
Workers, and Teamsters Local 890, and Luis Garcia Lopez, an individual
farmworker in California.
Diazinon is one of a class of pesticides called organophosphates. These
chemicals were originally developed by the German company I.G. Farben as nerve
gases during World World II.
Farmworkers who are exposed to diazanon can suffer muscle
spasms, confusion, dizziness, seizures, vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe
exposures can cause coma and death.