Pesticides worsening water contamination

Apr 11, 2012 – Rashme Sehgal |


Increasing use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture is playing havoc with the farming community apart from resulting in increased levels of water contamination.

A recent epidemiological study has shown the presence of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and mercury apart from much higher levels of pesticides in the water across Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The situation has got exacerbated with the unavailability of rural workers during the peak harvesting and sowing months forcing farmers to use pesticides/herbicides and opt for rapid mechanisation.

Agriculture expert Devinder Sharma warns, “Increased mechanisation and pesticide use has raised investment levels for even small farmers. But since most of these purchases are being done on credit, a crop failure means they are in deep trouble.”

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has warned against this trend and had even requested minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh to freeze the MGNREGA rural job scheme during the peak agricultural season to allow farm labour to be available for agricultural work.

The Economic Survey 2012 has also seconded Mr Pawar’s warning that the agricultural crisis has worsened in the last five years which is the time that the MGNREGA has been around.

Umendra Dutta of the Kheti Virasat Mission points out, “Farmers are encouraged to use excessive pesticides instead of farming organically. Herbicides are being used to remove weeds because there is no labour to do the farm work.”

Officials in the Central Water Commission warn of over 100 different pesticides that are presently found in groundwater samples which can take many years to clean up.

Cleaning ground water is a difficult task and a Minister of Environment and Forests survey found that 58 per cent of drinking waters drawn from various hand pumps and wells in Bhopal remains contaminated with organ chlorine pesticides even though the gas leak took place over 25 years ago.

Shortage of farm labour has also resulted in the creation of a National Mission on Farm Mechanisation. `This is strange in a country where large numbers of people are said to be unemployed,’ said Dutta.

Devinder Sharma adds, Rs Travelling across the country, workers will be found sitting idle. There is so much corruption in the Rs 35,000 crore MGNREGA that workers just need to sign to get depressed wages. They do not need to do nay work at all.’

Pesticide Exposure in Womb Affects I.Q.


pesticides?Pesticides on fruits, vegetables and other household products may lower a child’s I.Q.

Babies exposed to high levels of common pesticides in the womb have lower I.Q. scores than their peers by the time they reach school age, according to three new studies.

The research, based on data collected in New York and California from about 1,000 pregnant women and their babies, is certain to set off a new debate about the benefits of organic produce and the risks of chemicals found in the food supply and consumer products. The pesticides, called organophosphates, are commonly sprayed on food crops and are often used to control cockroaches and other pests in city apartments.

The latest findings are based on three separate but similar studies financed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Two were conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Columbia University and studied urban families in New York; the third was done by researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and focused on children in Salinas, Calif., an agricultural area. All three were published online on Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Each study began about a decade ago, when researchers recruited pregnant women who gave blood and urine samples that were used to measure pesticide exposure. In some instances, umbilical cord blood was tested. After the babies were born, the researchers continued to monitor the health of the children and also obtained regular urine samples to determine exposure to pesticides.

Over all, the studies found that women who had higher exposures to pesticides during pregnancy gave birth to children who eventually had lower I.Q. scores once they reached school age. In the Berkeley study, for instance, children with the highest levels of prenatal pesticide exposure scored 7 points lower on intelligence tests compared with children with the lowest levels of exposure. In that study, every 10-fold increase in organophosphate exposure detected during pregnancy corresponded to a 5.5 point drop in overall I.Q. scores.

“I think these are shocking findings,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai. “Babies exposed to the highest levels had the most severe effects. It means these children are going to have problems as they go through life.”

Dr. Landrigan compared the findings with research in the 1980s that linked childhood lead exposure to lower intelligence, dyslexia, higher risk for dropping out of school and a range of behavioral and developmental problems. As a result of that research, lead was removed from gasoline to prevent exposure from car exhaust, and it was also removed from paints and other consumer products.

The drop in I.Q. scores shown in the pesticide studies is similar to the drops shown in the earlier lead research, Dr. Landrigan said.

“When we took lead out of gasoline, we reduced lead poisoning by 90 percent, and we raised the I.Q. of a whole generation of children by four or five points,’’ said Dr. Landrigan. “I think these findings about pesticides should generate similar controversy, but I’m cautiously optimistic that they will have the effect of having the E.P.A. sharply reduce the use of organophosphate pesticides.”

Individuals can also do more to limit their own exposure. In homes with pest problems, sealing up cracks and crevices in baseboards and cleaning up food residue has been shown to be more effective at controlling cockroaches than using pesticides.

Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

Steps can also be taken to minimize exposure to pesticides in foods, particularly among pregnant women. Buying organic foods can help because certified organic fruits and vegetables aren’t grown with organophosphate pesticides. Better washing and peeling of conventionally grown produce can also reduce exposure.

The Environmental Working Group offers a shopper’s guide showing which foods have the highest and lowest rates of pesticide exposure. Strawberries, peaches, celery, apples and spinach typically have the highest levels of pesticide residue among commercially grown fruits and vegetables. Onions, avocado, frozen corn and pineapple had the lowest levels of pesticide residue.

Are Neonicotinoid insecticides Killing Bees?

A Review of Research into the Effects of Neonicotinoid Insecticides on Bees, with Recommendations for Action

By Jennifer Hopwood, Mace Vaughan, Matthew Shepherd, David Biddinger, Eric Mader, Scott Hoffman Black, Celeste Mazzacano

A possible link between neonicotinoids and honey bee die-offs has led to controversy across the United States and Europe. Beekeepers and environmentalists have expressed growing concern about the impact of neonicotinoids, concern based on the fact that neonicotinoids are absorbed into plant tissue and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators.

This report details potential negative impacts of neonicotinoids insecticides to honey bees and other important pollinators. It also makes recommendations on how we can better protect bees.

Click here to view a full PDF of the report.

Some of the major findings of the report include:

  • Several of these insecticides are highly toxic to honey bees and bumblebees.
  • Neonicotinoid residues are found in pollen and nectar consumed by pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The residues can reach lethal concentrations in some situations.
  • Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Measurable amounts of residues were found in woody plants up to six years after application.
  • Untreated plants may absorb chemical residues left over in the soil from the previous year.
  • Products approved for homeowners to use in gardens, lawns, and on ornamental trees have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than rates approved for agricultural crops.
  • There is no direct link demonstrated between neonicotinoids and the honey bee syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). However, recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD.
  • Many neonicotinoid pesticides that are sold to homeowners for use on lawns and gardens do not have any mention of the risks of these products to bees, and the label guidance for products used in agriculture is not always clear or consistent.

The report recommends that regulators reassess the bee safety of all neonicotinoid pesticide products, reexamine or suspend all conditional registrations until we understand how to manage risks, and require clear labels so that consumers know that these products kill bees and other pollinators.

The report also recommends that the US Environmental Protection Agency adopt a more cautious approach to approving all new pesticides, using a comprehensive assessment process that adequately addresses the risks to honey bees, bumble bees, and solitary bees in all life stages.

Bangladesh: Pesticides in dried fish processingBangladesh: Pesticides in dried fish processing

(The Financial Express-Bd) Allegations of widespread pesticide use in dried fish processing have once again been coming in from various coastal regions in Bangladesh. As reported in a contemporary on Saturday, 25 Feb 2012, many involved in the trade have been found soaking the raw fish in pesticide (ripcord, submicron, DDT, NOGOS, basudin, diosgenin, formalin, etc) solutions prior to putting them up to dry. This goes to show that there has been precious little in the way of raising awareness against the dangerous practice although successive governments have been alerted long ago — ever since this health hazard was reported in the early 1980s. According to the Bangladesh Fish Development Corporation (BFDC) in 2010-2011 period, the fish catch amounted to some 3.1 million metric tonnes. On average about 10 per cent of an annual catch is sun-dried, for home consumption as well as export, and many of the traders choose to apply pesticides in a bid to keep flies and maggots away. And they do it at their peril, as well as that of the ultimate consumers.
Thousands of workers are found using their bare hands to mix the poisons without the foggiest notion about the short and long-term health effects. NOGOS for example can destroy nerve cells, result in heart attacks, spontaneous abortion, stomach cramps, vomiting and other adverse effects, the degree of poisoning depending on dose and duration. People in general seem to be ignorant about the dangers and the government itself is hardly up to the task of monitoring pesticide use or abuse, wherever it may be . Many of the worst kinds, though officially banned here, are still available, and reportedly, even sold without names or with labels that do not match the contents. This clearly increases the health risks. Reliable statistics on pesticide casualties may not be available but reports of deaths and sufferings from chronic effects are common enough.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research ( IEDCR), investigating cases of ‘mysterious’ deaths in some villages in recent years had found evidence of extreme callousness in the handling of these agrochemicals, some of which belong to the banned ‘dirty dozen’ group known as POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants). These have been condemned globally decades ago, and in Bangladesh too they are officially banned. Yet, some of the nastiest are found to be in use, not only on dried fish and on cropland but to ‘manage’ public health. A functioning central register, or list, of pesticides available in Bangladesh could bring some discipline in the sector and give an adequate idea of the use and abuse of such poisons. The Department of Environment is said to control the country’s pesticide registration scheme but strangely there is no specific legislation for controlling their production or use.
The deadliest pesticides can wreck the human body and mind —- the nervous, reproductive, immune systems and the brain itself. Pesticide residues turn up virtually everywhere in Bangladesh, in ground water and in foods, causing many adverse health effects of ‘unknown’ origins. Some studies link these pollutants to serious diseases, including cancer and other subtle but potent health problems, such as systemic damage to the endocrine, immune and nervous systems. With such information at hand it should be considered a dereliction of duty if awareness against indiscriminate use of pesticides is not revved up. The government’s relevant ministries and departments —- agriculture, environment, health, commerce —- all need to put their heads together for long-term solutions to the grave risks posed by the continuing use of the highly toxic pesticides.

Can we have the pesticide menu, please?

G Sampath | Saturday, January 7, 2012

G Sampath

I’m not very adventurous in my drinking habits. I generally stick to wine. And while I’ve had whiskey, brandy, feni, cognac, chang, gin and arrack, besides several other region and country-specific spirits and sub-spirits whose names I don’t remember now, I’d never tasted pesticide.

So when I was invited by Pesti Cola, a leading MNC pesticide manufacturer, to attend a pesticide-tasting workshop, I accepted immediately.

The venue of the workshop was a luxurious resort in the heart of Vidarbha. As you would know, pesticide is a really popular drink in these parts, and people run up huge debts to indulge their weakness for this beverage. The resort was situated in the middle of a cotton farm, where the very air was redolent with the rich aroma of freshly brewed pesticide.

I found myself at a table with five different glasses of vintage pesticides. Also present were Mr Arsenic, the COO of Pesti Cola, Mr BT Gene, COO of the agri-business giant Consanto, Mr Terminator, COO of the seed company Maha-Seedy, and Mr Squeeze, COO of Vile-Mart.

Mr Arsenic handed me a glass to taste. The label said, ‘2006 Coudoulet de Vidarbh Nitrobenzene’. It was a bright, juicy and delicious pesticide with a cyanide flavor that leaves you with a subtle aftertaste of death even after you spit it out, as I did.
“Try the 2007 Domaine de la Yavatmal Heptachlore. It’s my favourite,” said Mr Terminator, offering me the glass. “It is a well-balanced pesticide that pairs well with small loans at usurious interest rates. Farmers who don’t get a decent price for their produce love this pesticide, as it has the power to transport you to another world altogether, far away from debts and terminator seeds.”

“But you have to check out the 2008 Chateau de la Wardha Mercury Chloride,” said Mr BT Gene, handing me another glass. “From the great Chateau de la Wardha, it is a sexy, full-bodied pesticide that turns you into a body in nine seconds flat. Consanto offers a 250 ml can of this drink free with every 500 seeds of Bt Cotton.”

The COOs exchanged glances as I picked up a glass that said ‘2003 Domaine de Amaravati Nickel Chloride Vieilles.’ They looked at me expectantly as I took a sip. “This polished, mineral-driven, understated pesticide will develop even greater complexity as you gargle your mouth with it,” I said, spitting it out. “While it is not as strong as Cabernet Endosulfan Bhuldana, it is better endowed than Pinot Noire Washim Ethyl Parathion.”

But the vintage drink I really liked was the 2001 Yavatmal Chardonnay Sodium Methane Arsonate. Ripe, lush and incredibly concentrated, this limited-production pesticide, which can be consumed even if you are not a farmer, is definitely one of the best Arsenic-based drinks ever.

I asked the COO of Pesti Cola about the pesticide market in India. “Well, India is the fastest growing market,” he said. “There are 650 million farmers in India, of which only 250,000 have committed suicide till date. And of these, only 179,000 had consumed pesticide. Just imagine how many million gallons of pesticides we’d sell if we can persuade all of India’s surviving farmers to commit suicide! Obviously, we have a huge market to tap!”
“Right,” I said, spitting out a mouthful of the well-balanced and curvaceous Cabernet Kelzara Nitrofen Blanc. “But how do you ensure that the demand keeps growing?”

“What do you mean?” said Mr BT Gene. “What makes you think the demand for pesticides won’t grow?”

“Well, you know, with so many people switching to organic farming and all that — do pesticides have a future, really?”

All the COOs burst out laughing. “Are you really this naive or are you joking?” and they laughed some more when they realised I was serious. “Nobody makes pesticides for crops anymore,” explained Mr Arsenic. “It’s an open secret that they are hardly effective. Our real target is the farmer — they are the real pests, after all, don’t you agree?”

“That’s self-evident,” said Mr Squeeze, the Vile-Mart COO, who had been sitting quietly in a corner all this while. “Farmers are unnecessary middlemen between the food and the consumer. If we eliminate them, we will be able to reach the food to the consumer at a much cheaper price — that’s how Vile-Mart became the world’s largest retailer.”

“In fact, I was just telling Mr Arsenic,” said Mr Terminator, “They should launch an ad campaign, selling the concept of how pesticide IS the coolest drink for the Indian farmer. You have Coke and Pepsi for urban India, and Pesti for rural India — that should be the brand positioning.”

“We’re working on it,” said Mr Arsenic. “We want to raise awareness on this issue. People wrongly assume that you have to be a farmer to commit suicide by drinking pesticide. We want to make pesticide the top-of-mind option for anyone contemplating suicide. Hopefully, in the years to come, even bureaucrats, politicians and CEOs will want to commit suicide by drinking pesticide. But for now, we’re happy to focus on farmers.”

The COOs decided to raise a toast. “To the great Indian farmer,” we said, clinking our glasses.

Insecticide usage on cotton in India 1999-2010 (Rs crores)

% Bt Cotton
cotton, Insecticide
Cotton fungicide
Cotton herbicide
Total Insecticides in Agrl.
% share of cotton
Total Pesticides in Agrl.