The following Powerpoint presentation was made by Martin Mowforth at the Cambridge University Conference entitled: ‘Power, Promise, Politics: The Pineapple from Columbus to Del Monte’ held on 20 – 21 February 2020 in Cambridge, UK.
Taken from Nicaragua News 15/03/15
Leon and the Chinandega departments have been subjected to four days of dust storms with winds gusting to 30-50 km per hour. Residents say the dust storms are an annual event with dust carried from the industrial scale planting of sugarcane and peanuts in the region. Residents said trees serving as windbreaks had been chopped down and they called on the government to plant more windbreak trees. They criticized the industrial farming methods as ecologically unsound. The dust is so bad that drivers on the Leon bypass highway had to drive slowly with lights on at noon. Poor people’s homes are filled with dust because they are not air tight.
There were increased incidents of respiratory illness, skin irritation, and potential contamination of water sources reported in Chinandega. Dr. Marcio Arteaga warned that the dust carries viruses and bacteria and warned the public to be cautious, especially children. “There are more respiratory illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia, and the dust can also cause conjunctivitis. People need to be careful not to expose children, especially children with allergies. Another important thing is to wash hands, because bacteria stick to the hands,” Arteaga said.
Originally from La Prensa (Managua), Mar. 8, 2015
Video included here by permission of Jan Nimmo – http://www.greengold.org.uk/
www.unes.org.sv/ (Reproduced here by kind permission of UNES)
7th September 2017
The monocultivation of sugar cane has been developed in El Salvador over several centuries. It is presumed that it was introduced to the territory at the time of colonisation, but it was in the 1960s that production increased by 43% and between 2001 and 2011 that it increased by yet another 30%. According to data from the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), national cultivation of sugar cane is currently around 108,427 manzanas (2014-2015 sugar harvest) and in the coastal zone cultivation reaches 52,000 manzanas.
El Salvador is one of the countries which has increased its use of pesticides and intensified its use of fertilisers; which, according to CEPAL (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), is far above the Latin American average and makes it one of the four nations of the region in which it occurs in consumption. However, this does not translate into a significant increase in productivity of crops like basic grains. According to Voices on the Border, the intensive use of agrotoxics is seen largely in the cultivation of sugar cane.
This problem has been reviewed by the UN Special Envoy for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation who has shown his concern over the quality of waters in El Salvador. The problem largely stems from the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in farming activities. In his final mission report of 11th-18th May 2016, he noted precisely:
“There is an important point of concern regarding the potential dangers which can affect water quality for human consumption. Information was gathered from various sources during the visit about the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in agriculture, chemicals which are usually hardly removed from the water treatment plants. This even includes the use of some that are prohibited in other countries.”
Also in 2016, the Human Rights Defence Attorney (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, produced a report on the use of agrotoxics and their impact on human rights. This report provided follow-up to the open record since 2000 on the impacts on health in the Bajo Lempa region, on the database of denunciations of serious health effects, especially cases of chronic kidney disease associated with contact with herbicides and pesticides used in the cultivation of cotton in previous decades.
The extensive and abusive use of agrotoxics is having an impact on the health of the Salvadoran population, according to the network of hospitals which reported in its ‘Report of Works 2011-2012’ for MINSAL [Ministry of Health] that terminal chronic kidney disease is the third cause of death in adults of both sexes, being the first cause for men and the fifth for women.
To date there are no actions being taken to prohibit the use of agrotoxics, despite the fact that many of them are prohibited in other countries and yet are sold without restriction here.
Concerned about the lack of action on the part of the state, UNES is referring to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights to demand that:
- The Commission requests from the Salvadoran government reports on the public policies and regulations relating to the environment and health and management of agrotoxics, the means of sustainable life, which guarantee the right to a clean environment and to health and which present specific indicators on each of these rights and on the inhabitants of the zones where monocultivation is practised. That the Commission carries out analyses and produces recommendations to the state of El Salvador relating to its compliance with its duty to protect life.
- The Commission distributes a report on the compliance by the Salvadoran state with the Inter-American standards relating to food sovereignty, the right to water, health and a clean environment.
- Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it presents periodic reports with the aim of evaluating the advances in the achievement of the recommendations.
- Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it promotes an end to the expansion of the agroindustry of monocultivation which assaults human rights and the means of life of indigenous peoples through clear public agrarian, economic and fiscal policies.
- Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it investigates the denunciations made by community leaders against the assassinations, threats, industrial contamination, environmental contamination, deforestation, land grabs, contamination and diversions of rivers, and labour conflicts resulting from agroindustrial activities.
- Finally, we ask the Commission, through its Special Envoy on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, to visit the country to verify the situation so described and to generate a report relating to agrotoxics and monocultivation and their impacts on human rights.
 Voices on the Border, ‘Large scale production of sugar cane’, 2016, p.2.
 1 manzana is equivalent to 1.75 acres.
 UNES, own calculations based on information from Data Collection from Sugar Cane Harvests in El Salvador, 2012-13 and 2014-15.
 United Nations, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Report of the Special Envoy for the Right to Water and Sanitation on mission to El Salvador, paragraph 61, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617089.pdf?OpenElement
 Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights, Report of the Attorney General’s Office for the Defence of Human Rights on the Use of Agrotoxics in El Salvador and their Impact on Human Rights. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 July 2016, 82 pp.
 Ramón García Trabanino, Terminal Kidney Disease in the Rosales National Hospital. Probable association based on contact with herbicides and pesticides (June 2000), cited in Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights (2016), op.cit, p.4.
 According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, “a means of life is sustainable when it can withstand and recover from ruptures and sharp shocks and maintain its capabilities and its activities in the present as well as in the future without undermining its natural resource base. Thus, the means of life are seen to be affected by external factors which allow it to increase its resilience and consequently decrease its vulnerability.” 4 May 2017 in http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/
7 de septiembre del 2017 | Reproducido aquí con la autorización de UNES
Durante varios siglos, en El Salvador se ha desarrollado el monocultivo de la caña de azúcar. (Se presume que ésta fue introducida en algún momento de la colonización al territorio, pero es en los años 60 cuando aumenta su producción en un 43% y, es entre 2001 y 2011 que aumenta en un 30% más.1 De acuerdo con datos de la Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES), el cultivo nacional de caña de azúcar actualmente ronda las 108,427 manzanas molidas (zafra 2014-2015) y en la zona Marino Costera el cultivo asciende a 52,000 Manzanas.2
Además, El Salvador es uno de los países que ha ido aumentando la utilización de plaguicidas, destacando por la intensidad en el uso de fertilizantes; lo que lo ubica, de acuerdo a la CEPAL, muy por encima del promedio latinoamericano y entre las cuatro naciones de la región que mostraron mayor recurrencia en su consumo. Sin embargo, ello no se traduce en un aporte significativo en el aumento de la productividad de cultivos como los granos básicos. De acuerdo a Voices on the border, el uso intensivo, de agrotóxicos se da en el cultivo de la caña de azúcar.
Este problema ha sido retomado por el Relator Especial del Derecho Humano al Agua y Saneamiento de la ONU, quien ha señaló su preocupación por la calidad de las aguas en El Salvador. Ello, principalmente, derivado del uso no controlado de agroquímicos en actividades agrícolas. En su informe final de misión realizada del 11 al 18 de mayo de 2016, con mucha precisión al respecto acotó:
“Hay un conjunto importante de preocupaciones en cuanto a potenciales peligros que pueden afectar la calidad del agua para consumo humano. Informaciones fueron transmitidas por diversas personas durante la visita sobre la utilización no controlada de agroquímicos en las actividades agrícolas, incluso algunos prohibidos en otros países, que usualmente son pobremente removidos en las plantas de tratamiento del agua”.3
Ese mismo año (2016) el Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, emitió un informe sobre el uso de agrotóxicos y el impacto en los derechos humanos.4 Este informe da seguimiento a expedientes abiertos desde el año 2000 por los impactos en la salud en el Bajo Lempa, sobre la base de denuncias de graves afectaciones a la salud; principalmente casos de enfermedad renal crónica asociada con el contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas utilizados en el cultivo de algodón décadas atrás.5
El uso extensivo y abusivo de agrotóxicos está impactando en la salud de la población Salvadoreña, según la red de hospitales, la cual reportó en su Informe de Labores 2011-2012 del MINSAL que la insuficiencia renal crónica terminal constituyó la tercera causa de muerte en personas adultas de ambos sexos, siendo la primera causa en hombres y la quinta en mujeres, con 12.6 % de letalidad hospitalaria.
Que a la fecha no se vislumbran acciones encaminadas a prohibir el uso de agrotóxicos, a pesar de que muchos de los que se utilizan están prohibidos en otros países, acá se veden sin ninguna restricción.
La UNES, preocupada por la anomia del Estado, recurre a la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos para solicitar:
1. Que la Comisión solicite informes al gobierno de El Salvador, sobre sus políticas públicas y regulaciones en materia ambiental, de salud, manejo de agrotóxicos, medios de vida sostenibles,6 que garanticen, el derecho a un medio ambiente sano y a la salud, y que presenten indicadores específicos sobre cada uno de estos derechos y sobre los habitantes de las zonas en donde se desarrollan monocultivos. Que la Comisión realice análisis y emita recomendaciones al Estado de El Salvador para que cumplan con su deber de protección de la vida.
2. Que la Comisión emita un informe sobre el cumplimiento de los estándares Inter americanos por parte de los Estado Salvador en materia de soberanía alimentaria, derecho al agua, a la salud y a un ambiente sano.
3. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador presentar informes periódicos a fin de evaluar el avance en las recomendaciones.
4. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite a los Estado de El Salvador promuevan el cese a la expansión de la agroindustria de los monocultivos que atenta contra derechos humanos y la forma de vida de pueblos indígenas, mediante políticas públicas claras agrarias, económicas y fiscales.
5. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador investigar las denuncias presentadas por líderes y lideresas comunitarias por asesinatos, amenazas, contaminación industrial, contaminación del medio ambiente, deforestación, despojo de tierras, contaminación y desvíos de ríos, conflictos laborales en el marco de las actividades de la agroindustriales.
6. Finalmente, solicitamos a la Comisión, a través de la Relatoría Especial sobre Derechos Económicos, Sociales, Culturales y Ambientales, así como los relatores de país, visite el Estado aquí mencionados para constatar la situación descrita y genere un informe en materia de agrotóxicos, monocultivos y sus impactos en los derechos humanos.
1 VOICES on the border, Producción a Gran Escala de Caña de Azúcar, 2016 pág.2
2 UNES, Cálculos propios con base a la información del Informe de Recopilación de Información de la Caña de Azúcar en El Salvador, Zafra 2012 – 2013 y 2014 – 2015
3 Naciones Unidas, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Informe del Relator Especial del Derecho al Agua y el Saneamiento acerca de su misión a El Salvador. Párrafo 61. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617069.pdf?OpenElement
4 Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos. Informe de la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos sobre el uso de agrotóxicos en El Salvador y el impacto en los derechos humanos. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 de julio de 2016, 82 pp.
5 García Trabanino, Ramón. Enfermedad Renal Terminal en el Hospital Nacional Rosales. Probable asociación del antecedente de contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas (Junio 2000), citado en Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (2016), Op. Cit., p.4
6 Según la FAO, “un medio de vida es sostenible cuando puede afrontar y recuperarse de rupturas y shocks bruscos y mantener sus capacidades y activos tanto en el presente como en el futuro sin socavar las bases de sus recursos naturales. Así, los medios de vida se ven afectados por los efectos externos que permite aumentar su resiliencia y disminuyen por consiguiente su vulnerabilidad.” Visto el 4 de mayo de 2017 en http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/
By Fabiola Pomareda García | firstname.lastname@example.org
22 September 2022, Semanario Universidad
We are grateful to Fabiola for permission to translate and summarise her article in Semanario Universidad, the Costa Rican weekly paper. Translated and summarised for the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) and for The Violence of Development website by Jill Powis with minor additions by Stephanie Williamson of the Pesticide Action Network.
A virtual seminar ‘From the global pesticide complex to the agripoisons crisis in Costa Rica’, discussed worrying aspects of Costa Rica’s pesticide licensing system and use. It was jointly organised by a number of Costa Rican organisations: Biodiversity Coordination Network (RCB), CoecoCeiba – Friends of the Earth Costa Rica, Bloque Verde (Green Block) and Frenasapp (National Front of Sectors Affected by Pineapple Production).
Soledad Castro, doctoral researcher at Barcelona’s Autonomous University, presented the results of research into Costa Rica’s pesticide licensing system carried out from 2018-21 with Marion Werner, professor and researcher at the University at Buffalo, New York State.
She explained that a total of 1,800 pesticides are still licensed for use in Costa Rica without up-to-date studies on their potential risk to health and the environment. The problem goes back to 2004, when Costa Rica’s Comptroller General formally declared that the pesticide licensing system needed to be changed. Health and environmental risk assessments would be mandatory, with evaluations carried out in Costa Rica itself before pesticides would be licensed. In 2007 new legislation gave a 10 year deadline for these old licences to comply with the new requirements, which, however, led to a huge backlog of license updating
In 2016, executive decrees were issued relaxing these requirements, a move described by critics as a form of deregulation. Following legal challenges, these decrees were suspended by the Constitutional Court and then countered by legislative attempts to extend further the ‘useful life’ of these outdated pesticides. There is now a Registration of Agrochemicals bill before the Legislative Assembly under which an affidavit would be sufficient for a substance to be approved for use and studies carried out in other countries would be acceptable. The State Phytosanitary Service confirmed to the researchers that 1,800 pesticides licensed before 2007 are still being used, without any updated risk assessments carried out. Soledad Castro expressed concern at their social and ecological impact.
Fernando Ramírez, researcher and professor at the Regional Institute for Research on Toxic Substances (IRET) of Costa Rica’s National University explained that 80% of the pesticides applied in Costa Rica qualify as highly hazardous. Furthermore, Costa Rica uses 10 times more pesticides per hectare than the United States – on average 25kg/ha of active ingredient as compared to 2.5 kg/ha in the States.
Since 2007, Costa Rica has become an exporter of pesticides, mainly due to its high importation of technical grade active ingredients for making formulations – mixing them with adjuvants to make their application more effective. The formulated products are then exported to other countries. Costa Rica mainly imports active ingredients from India (63%), China (30%), the United States (3%) and Poland (2.5%).
According to Henry Picado, a researcher with the RCB and member of Bloque Verde, Costa Rica’s pesticide industry has large yearly profits of $2.5 billion for imports and $700 million for exports, while, according to agronomist Elidier Vargas, the state annually loses $22-$27 million in tax exemptions to the sector. It is concentrated in only a few hands – according to statistics from the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Trade (MEIC), 63% of glyphosate, 50% of paraquat and 98% of 2.4-D, respectively, are imported by one company each.
Costa Rica is also one of the cheapest countries in Latin America to license a pesticide product, with an average cost of $400, as compared to $1,500-$4,500 in Mexico, $2,000 in Uruguay and $8,500 in Argentina.
While the industry accumulates profits and enjoys tax exemptions and very low licensing costs, 64.3% of the fresh food consumed in Costa Rica contains pesticide residues. “It’s basically an invasion by these businesses of our homes, our tables, our bodies,” Picado said.
By secretary of the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) Sheila Amoo-Gottfried.
Sheila has summarised the results of an investigation made largely by Greenpeace and Public Eye into what she calls ‘environmental racism’ by European agri-business transnational companies like Syngenta which have been sending fungicides that are banned here in Europe to countries of the Global South such as Costa Rica in this case.
Cipreses, a town on the fertile slopes of the Irazú volcano, north of San José, traditionally held ceremonies at the Plantón spring, praying for rain for the crops. Nine years ago, Isabel Méndez noticed a strong pesticide smell at the spring. She raised her concerns to ASADA (the local water administrative association), but these were brushed off.
Chlorothalonil, the chemical used widely as a fungicide is banned as a potential carcinogen in the UK and EU and yet is shipped in large quantities to Costa Rica, and other countries in the Global South, by European companies like Syngenta.
Méndez, determined to fight for her community, partnered with Ricardo Rivera, a former ASADA administrator, and other concerned residents to form EcoCipreses. Noticing that many people were getting sick in such a small place, samples were sent for testing and scientists confirmed the water springs were contaminated in Cipreses and the neighbouring town of Santa Rosa. EcoCipreses advocacy led to national calls for a ban on Chlorothalonil, following these scientific reports. The government issued instructions not to drink tap water, and since then trucks have been rolling in to deliver drinking water to the affected communities.
“For nine years now”, says Méndez, “I’ve been fighting with other women in Cipreses to get Chlorothalonil banned, and we are making progress on what used to feel impossible: Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court has given the Executive Branch of Government a deadline of six months to issue a ban.”
This ruling came into force in June 2023, but Isabel Méndez is well aware that Costa Rica’s complex decision-making system which requires relevant government ministries to all agree to the ban, along with the strong lobbying pressure coming from the agrochemical industry, could seriously delay definitive action.
In the meantime, to keep the pressure up, she has launched an online petition, gathering more than 52,500 signatures to put pressure on government ministers. “These last years have been very tough on my community. Besides never having enough water, my daughter, Fiorella, had polyps at 16 and has now, at 23, lost her sense of smell and taste. One of my neighbours has tongue cancer and several young people have been diagnosed with stomach cancer. It’s alarming…. To make matters worse, some locals with the support of the pesticide lobby regularly harass, intimidate and threaten us with death because of our activism.”
EcoCipreses has concerns about the broader health and environmental impact on the whole region, which produces 80 per cent of Costa Rica’s vegetables, using similar quantities of fungicides, vastly exceeding safe consumption limits. The solutions are not easy. No-one knows how long people have been drinking contaminated water or what the effects on their health will be. No one knows how widespread the contamination is across the country or how the pesticide traces can be removed from the springs already found to be tainted.
So, Isabel Méndez and her colleagues are determined to maintain maximum pressure. “As hard as it is, as hard as it’s been, we won’t give up because it isn’t just Cipreses’ and Santa Rosa’s springs … there could be plenty more. We feel we can’t let Syngenta use countries like ours – from Latin America to Africa – as dumping grounds for chemicals they can’t sell legally in Europe.”
- Unearthed, (June 2023), ‘”Water is sacred too”: How a pesticide banned in Europe robbed a Costa Rican town of its drinking water’, Greenpeace, Public Eye, https://www.publiceye.ch/en/topics/pesticides/chlorothalonil-a-banned-pesticide-exported-from-europe
- Euronews, 26 June 2023, ‘The EU and UK exported 1,000 tonnes of a banned pesticide to poorer countries, investigation reveals’,
- Vinicio Chacón, 20 septiembre 2023, ‘Más de 52 mil personas piden prohibición de Clorotalonil’, Semanario Universidad.
- Eko, 16 August 2023, Online petition: ‘EU: stop spreading banned chemicals’.
Due to the peculiarity of the fruit and its production cycle, which is falsely accelerated, approximately 60 per cent from every tonne of chemicals used in the cultivation of pineapples goes directly into the environment. This is of primary concern to the communities of Cairo, La France, Milano and others in the Siquirres district of north-eastern Costa Rica. In 2007, the agrochemicals Bromacil (associated with thyroid, liver and kidney cancer), Diluron and Tridamefón (also known to be carcinogenic and prone to induce chromosome abnormalities) were detected in water sources here. Despite article 31 of Costa Rica’s Water Act requiring a protection perimeter of no less than 200m in radius, pineapple crops are less than 20 meters from water sources in some of these areas. Rashes on the skin are now commonplace, and an increase in asthma and miscarriages have been recognised.
Another example of environmental contamination as a result of pineapple production comes from Del Monte’s ‘Babylonia’ farm on the Caribbean coast. Studies have found evidence of the carcinogenic herbicides Bromacil and Diaron being prominent in the water source, thereby rendering it unfit for consumption. For the last 3 years pineapple workers have been fighting this case. The government’s only response is to bring in tanks of potable water at a cost of US$27,000 a month. A new reservoir would cost US$80million.
The journal Surcos claims that some 6,000 people in the Atlantic zone are affected by this contamination and that the Costa Rican Water and Sanitation Institute’s water tests “confirm the presence in domestic water of toxic agro-chemicals used on the pineapple plantations”.
The Biodiversity Act article 109 establishes that the alleged polluter is the one who must prove they are not responsible for the damage caused; but this case remains unresolved due to controversy over the law regarding the tolerable limits of such agrochemicals in potable water.
 Omar Alvarado Salazar, July 2008, Pineapple production in Costa Rica. FRENASAPP, www.detrasdelapina.org.
 Gabriela Square, September 2008, Legalisation of pollution of water for human consumption (the case of Diuron and Bromacil). FRENASAPP, www.detrasdelapina.org.
 Alex Leff (April 2009) ‘Costa Rica’s pineapple country is no piña colada’, Global Post: Inside Costa Rica, www.insidecostarica.com/dailynews
 Didier Leiton Valverde of SITRAP, presentation to Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA), 17/06/10, London.
 Surcos (July 2010) ‘Comunidades y FRENASAPP luchan contra piñeras y demandan a empresa Del Monte’, Surcos 32, Costa Rica.
The pesticide Nemagon contains the active chemical DBCP (Dibromochloropropane) and was used for many years on banana plantations to kill nematode pests in the soil. Shell and Dow had conducted animal studies in the 1950s that found that exposure to DBCP led to sterility as well as liver, kidney and lung damage.
Nemagon was banned in 1977 in the United States after it was linked to sterility in workers at an Occidental Chemicals plant in California. Since then experimental evidence from animals has shown it to cause brain and kidney damage, and it is considered a highly toxic and likely highly carcinogenic compound. Regular contact with the toxic chemical has been linked to birth defects, sterility, skin diseases and cancer. After its ban in the United States, the companies continued to export their existing stocks to Nicaragua where it was used by Standard Fruit on banana plantations.
The chemical can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact, and persists for decades in the water and soil of contaminated areas, giving it a particularly dangerous legacy.
Banana Trade News Bulletin, no. 27, January 2003.
Stephanie Williamson (March 2003) ‘Nicaragua backs its banana workers’ fight for compensation’, ENCA Newsletter no 33, London: ENCA.
ENCA (July 2004) ‘Banana workers die in march to Managua’, ENCA Newsletter no.36, London: ENCA.
James Watson (December 2010) ‘Nemagon and the Nicaraguan bananeros’, ENCA poster.
By Pablo Rojas in www.crhoy.com and sent to ENCA by Didier Leitón Valverde, General Secretary of SITRAP, the Union of Plantation Agriculture Workers in Costa Rica. The original report on which the article is based can be found at: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2014/9/ehp.1307679.pdf
(Translated by Martin Mowforth)
Key words: pesticides; pregnancy; banana plantations; aerial fumigation.
A study published in the international journal ‘Environmental Health Perspectives’ warns of the risk to pregnant Costa Rican women who live near plantations where certain pesticides are frequently used.
The pesticide mancozeb is used to treat banana plantations. According to the report, the pregnant women who were examined in the analysis record a significant amount of etilentiourea (ETU) in their urine. This is a component of the mancozeb pesticide.
“From March 2010 to June 2011, the study included 451 women, of whom 445 gave urine samples which were analysed for ETU. The analysis showed that the amount of ETU found was higher than the quantities found in countries like the USA, Italy and England, at an average rate of five times more ETU in their urine,” explained Berna van Wendel de Joode of the Regional Institute of Toxic Substances of the National University (IRET-UNA) which took part in the research.
Along with IRET-UNA, the Lund University, the Swedish Karolinska Institute, the University of Quebec in Canada and the University of Berkeley California took part in the study. This is the first study which has detected the presence of herbicides in the urine of pregnant women who live in areas around plantations. A small part of the sample were agricultural labourers during their pregnancy and a half of their partners worked on banana plantations.
“Current regulations covering fumigation areas appear to be insufficient to prevent the contact of women with this pesticide, but according to the study’s results it would be possible to take measures to reduce the contact – measures such as: reducing the frequency of fumigations; replacing aerial fumigation with techniques with lower dispersal; and implementing additional measures to diminish the drift generated by aerial applications. These measures would probably reduce the environmental and worker contact with the pesticide,” explained the researcher.
A quarter of the women lived within 50 metres of the plantations. According to the data, some women had higher levels than others because they were living within the banana plantations, and were working there during their pregnancy or were washing clothes for their families.
“Using the data on the amounts of ETU found in the urine, researchers estimated the quantity of the substance which was entering the body each day. For three quarters of the women, their estimated dose was greater than the Integrated Risk Information System’s reference indicator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. For a quarter of them it was double the level of the reference indicator, and for a tenth it was three times higher,” said the official statement provided by the UNA.
The major concern is that herbicides directly affect thyroid illnesses. Other cases of this have occurred in Mexico and the Philippines and it is held from these cases that the regulations for aerial fumigation continue to be weak.
“The researchers show the importance of increasing the distance between the bananas and the houses, planting natural barriers and implementing an automatic system for washing work clothes so that they aren’t washed alongside other items in the workers’ houses,” stated the document.
Thyroid hormones are essential for the healthy development of the foetus and for a healthy pregnancy in general.