India's killer pesticide: World wants endosulfan ban, but India holds out


The state of Kerala in India is held up in global circles as a paragon of progressiveness. The southern region has a 97 percent literacy rate, the highest in India and far higher than the current literacy rate in the United States. Health care is nearly universal and 95 percent of babies are delivered in hospitals. Life expectancy of 73 years is very high. Some attribute these stunning statistics to the Communist state administration, which has controlled Kerala for much of the last 50 years and placed a high priority on social welfare issues.

A worker's paradise, however, Kerala is not. The cashew orchards that provide employment to many rural farm workers are regularly dusted with a highly toxic pesticide called endosulfan. Kerala has become the epicenter of a growing controversy on the use of endosulfan, with the government agreeing to compensate families of farm workers who perished due to poisoning from the pesticide use. The scandal is widening to such an extent that many are calling it "The Second Bhopal," a reference to the industrial disaster at a Union Carbide plant that claimed thousands of lives. Now, as the global scientific community stands poised to ban endosulfan, making it only the 22nd substance to get onto the chemical blacklist, the Indian government is the most vocal opponent of the ban.