People still exposed to chlordecone in the Caribbean

Bananen

Cécile Thibert (Le Figaro) writes that, for decades, people in the Caribbean have been exposed to chlordecone (also known as kepone). This pesticide, banned since 1993 in the Caribbean, is present in food grown in contaminated areas in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Thibert reports:

Until when will the inhabitants of Guadeloupe and Martinique be exposed to Chlordecone? What are the health consequences of such exposure in the long term? 25 years after the ban of this pesticide, which has been long used in Caribbean banana plantations, these questions, still today, remain unresolved. However, a recently published report by the National Health Security Agency (ANSES) brings new factors to fore. According to the data, a significant part of the Caribbean population is still over-exposed to chlordecone, especially children.

“Globally, there is nothing new under the sun,” says Luc Multigner, researcher in epidemiology at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm). Since chlordecone is a very low-volatility molecule and its presence confined to soils, it was already known that the population is exposed to it through the consumption of food. “Eggs, vegetables, poultry, fish, crustaceans … All products grown in vegetable gardens located in polluted areas or purchased outside of regulated circuits may contain levels of chlordecone above established standards. In the contaminated areas of Guadeloupe, up to 19% of children could be exposed, according to the ANSES study.

The problem is that chlordecone is a tough pesticide that is not about to go away. Massively sprayed on banana trees from the 1970s to control weevil, it persists in the soil for a long time—a very long time. In 2005, researchers at the National Institute of Agricultural Research even estimated that “it will take several centuries for the slow leaching of land by drainage water to overcome chlordecone pollution.” Understandably, it is now found in foods of plant or animal origin grown in contaminated areas. On the other hand, tap water or bottled water are sufficiently treated to be safe.

For 20 to 30 years, however, Caribbean people have lived in complete ignorance of the contamination of their environment while the serious danger of this pesticide was known for a long time. In 1976, it was banned in the United States, following the occurrence of a serious industrial accident: in just 16 months, the plant that manufactured this molecule caused intoxication of 29 workers and pollution of the adjacent river. Despite this, France maintained its authorization until 1993, despite an alarmist report from INRA published in the 1980s. It was not until 2007 that France began to worry about it with the launch of a national plan. Several measures followed, such as the ban on cultivation and fishing in certain sectors. [. . .]

[Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero.] For full article (in French), see http://sante.lefigaro.fr/article/aux-antilles-la-population-est-toujours-exposee-au-chlordecone/

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