The Story of Endosulfan in India

The Supreme Court of India refused to lift the ban on manufacture, sale and use of pesticide ‘Endosulfan’ but has considered the industry’s request to export the existing stock.  Responding on a PIL filed by the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the pesticide was banned on 13th May 2011 by The Supreme Court of India. The pesticide which has negative environmental and health impacts was previously ignored by the Indian government due to its wide application in agriculture and low costs.

What is endosulfan? Why is it important? And why it should be banned?

Endosulfan molecular structure
Molecular structure

Chemistry: Endosulfanis a diastereomeric mixture of two isomers i.e. alpha-endosulfan (64-67%) and beta-endosulfan (29-32%). in the ratio 7:3 along with some impurities. It belongs to the organochlorine group of pesticides, under the Cyclodiene subgroup with chemical formula C9H6Cl6O3S.  It has chemical name – 6,7,8,9,10,10- hexa chloro- 1,5,5a,6,9,9a- hexahydro– 6,9- methano- 2,4,3-benzodioxathiepine -3-oxide.

Chemical and Physical properties

  • In pure form it exists as colourless crystals
  • Slightly soluble in water
  • Dissolves readily in xylene, chloroform, kerosene and most organic solvents and is a non-combustible solid
  • Mixable with most fungicides and compatible with most pesticides

Toxicity Classification

  • The U S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies endosulfan as Category Ib – Highly Hazardous.
  • The European Union also rates it Highly Hazardous.
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies endosulfan in Category II – Moderately Hazardous.
  • The Industrial Toxicological Research Centre (ITRC) in India the nodal centre for the Regional Based Assessment of Persistent Toxic Substances (PTS) for the Indian Ocean region by the United Nations Environment Programme-Global Environment Facility (UNEP-GEF) classifies endosulfan as Extremely Hazardous.

The world is using endosulfan since its introduction in the 1950’s. As it is a pesticide; it is most widely use in Agriculture. Previously it was considered as a safer alternative to other organochlorine pesticides in many countries but in the last two decades many countries have recognized the hazards of wide application of this pesticide and have restricted its use. It is banned in Singapore, Belize, Tonga, Syria, Germany, Sweden, Philippines, Netherlands, St. Lucia, Columbia, Cambodia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and restricted  use is permitted in Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Thailand, Taiwan, Denmark, Serbia & Montenegro, Norway, Finland, Russia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, Iceland, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. It is one among the twenty one priority compounds identified by the UNEP-GEF in the Regional Based Assessment of Persistent Toxic Substances (PTS) in 2002. (Source: IPEN Pesticide Working Group Project-2004)

Indian scenario

Except the state of Kerala, India is one of the nations where endosulfan is not banned and can be freely used. A lot of effort has been initiated by various research institutions, nongovernmental organizations, etc to impose a ban or restriction on the use of endosulfan but the efforts could not bring the positive results. But in case of Kerala, extreme public pressure has been considered and use of endosulfan was banned by the order of the Supreme Court of India. In spite of imposing restrictions on it, India is a big producer of endosulfan. Since 1996-97, it produces an average of 8206 MTPA totalling 41033 MT between 1995 -2000. India exported 12180 MT during this period and consumed on an average 3599 MTPA. (Source: IPEN Pesticide Working Group Project-2004)

See the time chronology of events;

  • In July 2007 the European Community and its Member States being parties to the Stockholm Convention proposed endosulfan to be listed in the relevant annexes of the Convention (UNEP/POPS/POPRC.4/14). The Committee agreed to suspend consideration of the chemical until its fourth meeting (UNEP/POPS/POPRC.4/15)
  • At its fifth meeting in October 2009 the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) reviewed and adopted a revised draft risk profile on endosulfan (UNEP/POPS/POPRC.5/10/Add.2). The POPRC decided, in accordance with paragraph 7 (a) of article 8 of the Convention that endosulfan has significant adverse human health and environmental effects. The Committee decided to develop for endosulfan a risk management evaluation document that includes an analysis of possible control measures for consideration at its next meeting and final recommendation to the COP for its listing in the Annexes of the Convention
  • Decisions adopted by the POPRC at its sixth meeting (POPRC-6/8: Endosulfan) during 11 to 15 October 2010 – Having completed the risk management evaluation for endosulfan in accordance with paragraph 7 (a) of Article 8 of the Convention, and adopting the risk management evaluation for endosulfan, the committee decides, in accordance with paragraph 9 of Article 8 of the Convention, to recommend to the Conference of the Parties that it consider listing technical endosulfan (CAS No: 115-29-7), its related isomers (CAS No: 959-98-8 and CAS No: 33213-65-9) and endosulfan sulfate (CAS No: 1031-07-8) in Annex A to the Convention, with specific exemptions.
  • On May 14, 2011, The Supreme Court of India ordered a countrywide ban on manufacture, sale and use of the pesticide endosulfan by considering its toxic effects on humans and environment.
  • On Aug 6, 2011, The Supreme Court of India refused to lift its three-month old ban on the manufacture, sale and use of pesticide endosulfan despite an expert committee report favouring its use.

Banning endosulfan would not solve the problems of Indian farmers as pesticides are a basic need for them to improve crop productivity. We have to look for an alternative pesticide which is as cheap as endosulfan and with lesser bad environmental and health impacts. Previously producing endosulfan came under the patent rules but it is now off patent and that’s the reason many people feel that rich industrialized countries mostly EU have been supporting this ban in India so that they can sell their even costlier alternatives in Indian market.

(State wise consumption of endosulfan in India)

8 thoughts on “The Story of Endosulfan in India

  1. We people of India are careless about what goes into our food , maybe because we have been blessed by a good soil and abundant crops which were always healthy.

    Chemical fertilizers and pesticides often get into the crop and then into anyone who consumes them this is outright dangerous to the entire nation and hence needs to be handled very carefully.

    It is much better to rely on organic fertilizers and pesticides.

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