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Pest spray scourge for schoolboys

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 8: Schoolboys exposed to aerial spraying of endosulfan pesticide in Kerala have shown delayed sexual maturity, says a government study.

Endosulfan also appeared to interfere with sex hormone synthesis in boys and adolescents in a village on the Kerala-Karnataka border, adds the study sponsored by the health and family welfare ministry.

It was undertaken in the wake of reports of high prevalence of ailments among the people, especially the young, in villages in the northern district of Kasargod.

Aerial spraying was carried on there for more than two decades against pests in cashew plantations.

The study, published in this month’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) of the US department of health and human services, underscores for the first time fears regarding pesticide impact on the exposed population.

The study group comprised 117 schoolboys of age 10-19 of a village situated among cashew plantations and 90 other chil- dren as the control group with no history of exposure to endosulfan.

The parameters included recording of clinical history, physical examination, sexual maturity rating (SMR) and estimation of serum levels of testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone and endosulfan residues.

The average serum and endosulfan levels in the study group were significantly higher than in the control group.

“Our study results suggest that endosulfan exposure may delay sexual maturity and interfere with hormone synthesis in male children,” says lead author Dr Habibullah Sayeed.

Sayeed, the director of the National Institute of Occupational Health of the Indian Council of Medical Research, led an 11-member team.

Endosulfan has been banned in several countries, including Cambodia, Colombia, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Indonesia. Its use is severely restricted in at least 20 other countries.

So far, only experimental evidence — as opposed to human data — has been found of endosulfan’s adverse effects on the male reproductive system.

EHP’s science editor Dr Jim Burkhart said: “This is the first human study to ever measure the effects of endosulfan on the male reproductive system. Decades of spraying this pesticide, and only this pesticide, on the village provided a unique opportunity to analyse its impact. Although the sample size is somewhat limited, the results are quite compelling.”

Aerial spraying of the pesticide was undertaken in the plantations owned by the state-run Plantation Corporation of Kerala in the late 1970s and continued till the government suspended its use in 2000.

Dr Y.S. Mohan Kumar, who runs a private clinic, was the first to blow the whistle on the high incidence of respiratory, skin and neurological ailments, besides various cancers, in the region.

A campaign he and his fellow NGO activists undertook led to a media blitz on the residents’ woes and a freeze on the use of the pesticide by the corporation.

Kumar said nearly a dozen committees had studied the situation and most had produced ambivalent reports.

Several concluded there was no data to show the pesticide was responsible for the prevalence of various diseases, he said.

The government has so far been unable to come up with any scheme to provide sustained care to the afflicted.

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