Endosulfan: An appalling ‘proposed’ insecticide decision by ERMA

A gender bender (endocrine disruptor) insecticide banned in 55 countries with residues found in Antarctica, breast milk and New Zealand tomatoes looks set to have continued use in New Zealand following an ERMA reassessment.

Three New Zealand NGOs that have been fighting to get endosulfan banned in New Zealand for nearly a decade are appalled by the ‘proposed decision’ released by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) on Friday night as part of its reassessment process.

The ‘proposed’ decision will allow almost unfettered use of endosulfan on many food crops and on sports turf – from bowling greens to golf courses and cricket pitches. Children’s play areas would only have 48 hours of down time following endosulfan use.

“This is an unbelievable proposal from ERMA: said Dr Meriel Watts, coordinator of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Aotearoa NZ. It flies in the face of most of the rest of the world. Whilst country after country are announcing bans – now up to 55 countries – ERMA is suggesting we just keep right on using this extremely toxic pesticide. New Zealand was the last country to stop manufacturing 2,4,5-T. It looks like ERMA wants us to be the last one using endosulfan too.”

Endosulfan is a persistent and bioaccumulative organochlorine pesticide that contaminates the air, rainfall, snow, soil and water in every region in the world, including the Artic and the Antarctic. It contaminates elephant seals in the Antarctic and beluga whales in the Artic.

Contamination of the global food supply is also ubiquitous – here in New Zealand 50% of tomatoes contained endosulfan residues in the last total diet survey, and recently it was also found in lettuce, strawberries and courgettes in results released by the NZFSA in May this year.

“The whole global food supply is contaminated with endosulfan, and so are humans – endosulfan is found in body fat, breast milk, placental tissue and umbilical cord blood – and ERMA has turned a blind eye to this” said Dr Watts.

“Endosulfan is passed from mothers to their unborn children, and then again to them after birth in breast milk. It is a total outrage that ERMA have also chosen to ignore this. We don’t know how contaminated New Zealand women are because nobody has bothered to look, but on the basis of findings elsewhere in the world it’s a fair bet we are carrying toxic loads. That women have to continue transferring residues of this lethal chemical to their offspring, against their will, is a straight forward abuse of human rights. Women should not give up breast feeding their babies – the responsibility lies with ERMA to ensure that women of New Zealand are not put in this position.”

“The effects of endosulfan have long been associated with breast cancer and also endocrine disruption giving it a title of “gender bender”,” said Safe Food Campaign co-convenor Alison White.

Endosulfan is a semi volatile chemical – which means that when it is used most of it evaporates into the air. About 60-70% of it evaporates off the leaves of plants or soil, enters the atmosphere and is transferred around the globe. That is how we have ended up with such high levels of contamination in remote places like the Artic.

ERMA has not only abdicated its responsibility to women in New Zealand, it has also abdicated its responsibility towards the global environment, a situation that is deeply embarrassing for New Zealand internationally. Endosulfan is very soon to enter the process for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants – the treaty that bans dioxins, DDT, and a number of other chemicals. It has been nominated by the European Union.

”Endosulfan is not necessary in New Zealand agriculture or horticulture or playing fields,” said Soil & Health Association spokesperson Steffan Browning. “ERMA is rapidly becoming the Economic Risk Management Authority, forgetting its real title of Environmental Risk Management, and is failing New Zealand’s many clean and green producers and consumers who do not use endosulfan but who suffer from the cowboy operators that do.”

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