By "Tern" Alexa Schirtzinger--Rescue divers recovering bodies from a passenger ferry that sank Monday in a typhoon off the Philippines have been suspended from their work because of the discovery of endosulfan, a neurotoxic pesticide, that had been on board, bound for Del Monte's pineapple plantations, the BBC reported.
The New York Times estimates a death toll of 1,300 from Typhoon Fengshen--and around 800 of those were passengers on the ferry, which ran aground near Sibuyan Island--not, of course, including the potential fish kills and wildlife decimation that will ensue if the pesticide leaks out of its now-submerged containers.
Endosulfan, according to Cornell's Extension Toxicology Network (ExToxNet), has both acute (immediate) and chronic toxic effects, especially on the central nervous system. As for carcinogenic properties, ExToxNet reports, in early studies by the National Cancer Institute saw mice and rats have "such high mortality rates that no conclusions could be drawn." (A later study concluded that endosulfan had no carcinogenic effects.)
According to PANNA, the Pesticide Action Network - North America, endosulfan is banned or severely restricted in close to 40 countries and the European Union. But the Philippines is a gray area: PANNA lists endosulfan as banned there, but the Manila Bulletin quotes the director of the Philippines' Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, or FPA, on confirming two exceptions to the country's endosulfan restrictions: Dole and Del Monte.
So far, Del Monte has denied any knowledge of the fact that its endosulfan was being transported on a passenger ferry--which, despite the company's privileged status, is illegal.
Will big agro finally be forced to answer for itself and for its less-than-virtuous practices in developing countries? Or will Del Monte win again, letting the outrage die down while the people of the Philippines clean up the mess? I know one thing: It's time to boycott the Del Monte pineapple. It's not local, anyway. I'm switching to good old organic local apples.