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June 10th, 2010
10:57 AM ET

EPA moves to ban DDT cousin

By David S. Martin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Unacceptable neurological and reproductive risks to farm workers and wildlife have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to move toward a ban of the insecticide endosulfan, the federal agency announced.

The United States would join the European Union and other countries already barring the use of endosulfan, a chemical cousin of DDT currently used on vegetables, fruits, cotton and ornamental shrubs, trees and vines.
Some 1.4 million pounds of endosulfan are used annually in the United States, according to the EPA.

“My reaction is somewhere between its about time and this is going to really make a difference,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientists with the National Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental group that had been pushing for the ban.

Endosulfan does not pose a risk to consumers because it’s used on such a small percentage of the U.S. food supply, according to the EPA.

In its news release Wednesday, the environmental agency said it’s moving to ban endosulfan because new data show the risks of the insecticide are greater than previously known.

Sass said the U.S. decision could influence other countries still using the chemical, especially India, where she said the insecticide is used extensively by cashew growers and has caused birth defects.

As part of the announcement, the EPA said it was in discussions with Makhteshim Agan of North America (MANA), the manufacturer of endosulfan, about voluntarily terminating all uses of the chemical in the United States.

The Israeli company sells the chemical in the United States as Thionex 3EC and Thionex 50W for use in a wide variety of crops, including cherries, apples, peaches, potatoes, grapes, barley, oats, tobacco, cotton and wheat.

“From a scientific standpoint, MANA continues to disagree fundamentally with EPA’s conclusions regarding endosulfan,” Scott Rawlins, director of global governmental and industry relations for the company, said in a statement.

“However, given the fact that the endosulfan market is quite small and the cost of developing and submitting additional data high, we have decided to voluntarily negotiate an agreement with EPA that provides growers with an adequate time frame to find alternatives for the damaging insect pests currently controlled by endosulfan,” Rawlins said.

Endosulfan has been registered for use in the United States since 1954.
Use of another organochlorine, DDT, blossomed after World War II, peaking at 80 million pounds in 1959, before being banned in the United States over health and environmental concerns in 1972.

Like DDT, endosulfan is persistent in the environment, accumulating in the tissues of fish and mammals, including people. The chemical also becomes airborne and has been detected thousands of miles from where it’s used.

“Endosulfan is an endocrine disruptor associated with birth defects. It’s hazardous. Getting it out of commerce and out of the U.S. has benefits all the way to the Arctic,” Sass said.

Read more on Dr. Sanjay Gupta's yearlong investigation of chemicals in our environment at "Toxic America."


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.