Industrial farming methods spell damaging dust storms for Leon and Chinandega

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

Agrotoxics and Monocultivation: their impact on the health of the Salvadoran population

By UNES, the Salvadoran Ecological Unit  (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%.[1] According to data from the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), national cultivation of sugar cane is currently around 108,427 manzanas[2] (2014-2015 sugar harvest) and in the coastal zone cultivation reaches 52,000 manzanas.[3]

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.”[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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:

  1. 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[7], 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


[1]  Voices on the Border, ‘Large scale production of sugar cane’, 2016, p.2.

[2]  1 manzana is equivalent to 1.75 acres.

[3] UNES, own calculations based on information from Data Collection from Sugar Cane Harvests in El Salvador, 2012-13 and 2014-15.

[4] 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,

[5] 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.

[6]  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.

[7]  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


Caso Agrotoxicos y Monocultivo, Su Impacto en la Salud de la Poblacion Salvdorena

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.
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

Water contamination from pineapple production in Costa Rica

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] Rashes on the skin are now commonplace, and an increase in asthma and miscarriages have been recognised.[4]

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.[5]

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”.[6]

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.

[1] Omar Alvarado Salazar, July 2008, Pineapple production in Costa Rica. FRENASAPP,
[2] Gabriela Square, September 2008, Legalisation of pollution of water for human consumption (the case of Diuron and Bromacil). FRENASAPP,
[3] Ibid.
[4] Alex Leff (April 2009) ‘Costa Rica’s pineapple country is no piña colada’, Global Post: Inside Costa Rica,
[5] Didier Leiton Valverde of SITRAP, presentation to Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA), 17/06/10, London.
[6] Surcos (July 2010) ‘Comunidades y FRENASAPP luchan contra piñeras y demandan a empresa Del Monte’, Surcos 32, Costa Rica.

Nemagon and DBCP

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.

Pesticides in Costa Rica’s banana zones seriously affect pregnant women

By Pablo Rojas in 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:

(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.