Endosulfan is a chemical pesticide known by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association to be terminally hazardous to human health. The substance has been banned in 84 countries, but not in India until earlier this year. The Indian Supreme Court made the decision to ban the substance in India on April 30, but there has been trouble enforcing the ruling. The main arguments within India for maintaining use and production of the fertilizer are twofold. India is the largest remaining exporter of the cheap chemical that is common in developing countries. Their production and export industries are worth about 1000 crore rupees, or 220 million USD. Because India has become the world's leading producer, it is also cheap for poor Indian farmers. The organic alternatives to endosulfan run are about fifteen times more expensive, a price hike that could raise the price of food to a level many subsistence and commercial farmers could not afford. Pressure from other developing nations, including China, that supported a ban on the substance, caused India to fold.
This may seem like a major victory for the Indian environmentalist movement, but it is a long time coming and irreparable damage caused by the omnipresent pollutant may have already been done. The story was first reported in "Down to Earth," an Indian environmental periodical, in 2001, when farmers in the Kasaragod region of Kerala reported unreasonably high levels of the substance and related deaths in their local villages. Because almost all of Kerala's agriculture comes from local sources, this issue was localized and the endosulfan industry made repeated claims, supported by the Indian Central Government, that there was insufficient proof that endosulfan was directly linked to these deaths. However, "Down to Earth's" independent research discovered high levels of endosulfan in the blood of Karasagod locals who apply the pesticide. They ranged from 100 ppm in a sixteen year old to 196 ppm in a fifty year old man. Additionally, there were high levels found in produce (most notably 212 ppm in pepper). Fatal levels of endosulfan are around 18-160ppm in rats and 77 ppm in dogs. Thankfully, Kerala's activist population stuck with their support of banning the substance. The Kerala state government outlawed use of the substance in 2002, and protests continued in the region until the recent ban. Even students were involved, as the drama club from Mary Roy's school Pallikadoom in Kottayam staged a protest play outside the endosulfan club that brought other protesters to tears. The endosulfan industry is attempting to appeal the ban, and they have the support of those who value economics over health and the environment. It seems like a step towards environmental justice, one of few within the Indian environmentalist movement, but the effects of endosulfan will continue as a pervasive chemical that adversely effects the health of future generations.