The milk which caused the deaths of five tribal students of the state Welfare Department-run boarding school — Adivasi Awasiya Vidyalaya — at Bedo block in Ranchi district on November 13 contained endosulfan, a highly poisonous compound found in pesticides and insecticides. The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) is expected to submit its report within a couple of days.
Endosulfan is an insecticide used in countries throughout the world to control pests on fruit, vegetables and tea and on non-food crops such as tobacco and cotton. It is a as a Persistent Organic Pollutant.
Endosulfan is a contact and stomach poison that has been used to control insects. The main source of exposure of the general population is food. Endosulfan is classified as a "Severe Marine Pollutant" by the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.
After the tragedy, Bedo Block Welfare Officer Vishwanath Sahu had lodged an FIR against headmaster Kelment Tigga, warden Jugeshwar Sahu, cooks Jagat alias Soma and Laxman and the supplier of the milk Sarita alias Pratima, holding them responsible for the tragedy.
Tigga is still at large but interrogation of Soma, Laxman and Pratima, who were remanded to judicial custody on November 18, revealed that the milk was supplied by Pratima in the morning. “A number of students had consumed it then without any problems,” Pratima told The Indian Express. But the 43 students and Sahu, who drank it in the evening, became its victims. Five of them died and 39 others including Sahu were hospitalised within hours of its consumption.
Earlier, at the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) of the UN's 'Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade' from 27-31 October in Rome, Indian government succeeded in blocking the addition of this neurotixic pesticide to the Rotterdam Convention. The Prior Informed Consent (PIC) treaty is meant promote information exchange about hazardous chemicals and to help less developed countries enforce domestic bans and restrictions on listed chemicals. Endosulfan had been recommended for inclusion in the treaty by its own scientific Chemical Review Committee, and almost all of the 126 countries that are Parties to the treaty supported it's inclusion. India was alone in blocking endosulfan. Indian government's delegation guided by the representatives of the Indian Chemical Council and government-owned Hindustan Inseceticides Limited, which makes endosulfan and is also the largest remaining producer of DDT.
According to UN's Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, it is persistent in the environment, bioaccumulative, demonstrates long range environmental transport, and causes adverse effects to human health and the environment. Endosulfan is listed as a POP in the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), and is recognised as a Persistent Toxic Substance by the United Nations Environment Programme.
First registered for use in 1954, endosulfan is a broad spectrum organochlorine insecticide. Following international recognition of their long term negative impacts on the global environment, organochlorines, including DDT, chlordane and HCH, have been largely eliminated from use in global agriculture. Endosulfan remains the major exception and is still widely applied to crops – particularly in the developing world.
Widespread contamination Due to its potential to evaporate and travel long distances in the atmosphere, endosulfan has become one of world’s most widespread pollutants. Endosulfan is now found extensively in global water resources, soils, air, rainfall, snow and ice deposits and oceans, including in remote ecosystems..
In human breast milk
Endosulfan is a widespread contaminant of human breast milk and has been found in samples from women in India besides several other countries, and in umbilical cord blood samples in Denmark, Finland, Spain, USA, Japan. A survey of women in Denmark and Finland found endosulfan in all samples of breast milk (total = 280) and in all placental samples (total = 130). Neither country has ever recorded heavy use of endosulfan.
Threats to wildlife
According to the European Union “endosulfan is very toxic to nearly all kinds of organisms”. Levels in the environment are frequently high enough to impact on wildlife. According to the US EPA, “Monitoring data and incident reports confirm that endosulfan is moving through aquatic and terrestrial food chains and that its use has resulted in adverse effects on the environment adjacent to and distant from its
registered use sites”.
India is the largest producer of endosulfan in the world. Three major companies produce endosulfan in India — Excel Industries, Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL) and eid Parry. Excel is the market leader as far as endosulfan is concerned.
Endosulfan is one of the most frequently reported causes of unintentional poisoning. Earlier also poisoning incidents, including fatalities, are documented in India.
Impacts on health
Acute endosulfan poisoning can cause convulsions, psychiatric disturbances, epilepsy, paralysis, brain oedema, impaired memory and death. Long term exposure is linked to immunosuppression, neurological disorders, congenital birth defects, chromosomal abnormalities, mental retardation, impaired learning and memory loss.
Endosulfan is an abundant food contaminant globally and is present in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, as well as dairy products (milk, butter, cheese) and meat (beef, lamb, pork).
Endosulfan is banned or withdrawn in 55 countries worldwide. Successful replacement of endosulfan has been achieved in all countries where endosulfan is now banned including France, Spain, Greece and Portugal – all majorusers prior to the EU ban in 2006.
In 2001, in Kerala, India, endosulfan spraying became suspect when linked to a series of abnormalities noted in local children. Initially endosulfan was banned, yet under pressure from the pesticide industry this ban was largely revoked. Achyuthan A studied the effects of the spraying. The situation there has been called "next in magnitude only to the Bhopal gas tragedy."
In 2006, in Kerala, compensation of Rs 50,000 was paid to the next kin of each of 135 people who were identified as having died as a result of endosulfan use. Chief Minister V S Achutanandan also gave an assurance to people affected by poisoning, "that the government would chalk out a plan to take care of treatment, food and other needs of the affected persons and that its promise of rehabilitation of victims would be honoured."
It is high time both central and Jharkhand government learnt how to stand up to the manifest influence of Endosulfan manufacturers, acted in unison to ban Endosulfan to safeguard public health, provided compensation to the victims and made the companies criminally liable for culpable homicide.