Smarter Living: Chemical Index

Endosulfan, an agricultural insecticide still used in China and India, is a hormone-disrupting chemical and is toxic to the nervous system.

Health Concerns

Young children are particularly vulnerable to endosulfan and other pesticides because their bodies and brains are still developing, and chemicals that interfere with the nervous system during development may cause long-term or permanent damage.

Exposure to low doses of endosulfan in the womb is linked to male reproductive harm, birth defects and possibly autism.

High-dose exposures result in headaches, nausea, vomiting, seizures and, in extreme cases, unconsciousness and death.

Environmental Concerns

Endosulfan is a persistent organic pollutant. Once it enters the atmosphere, it breaks down very slowly, traveling great distances before doing so. Endosulfan accumulates in the bodies of animals and people, including those living thousands of miles from its point of application.

Where it is Found

Crops commonly sprayed with endosulfan include cotton, cantaloupe, tomatoes, potatoes and apples. Many fruits and vegetables retain endosulfan and other pesticide residues even after washing and cooking. Endosulfan can contaminate drinking water and can also be inhaled by people working in, living near or passing by recently sprayed fields.

Stay Safe

  • Buy organic fruits and vegetables, especially kids' favorites. Berries, stone fruits and leafy greens tend to carry the most pesticide residue.
  • Wash all produce thoroughly before you eat it.
  • Avoid using endosulfan in your garden.

Take Action

Fortunately, the U.S. EPA acted in June 2010 "to end all uses of the insecticide endosulfan in the United States" joining the more than 50 countries, including the entire European Union, which had already banned its use. Unfortunately endosulfan is still widely used in India and China. Support is needed for international bodies which are considering a global ban.Until such time, it is important to maintain vigilance when purchasing produce grown in China or India.

Learn More

U.S. EPA, Endosulfan RED facts

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Toxicological Profile for Endosulfan, September 2000

Roberts EM, English PB, Grether JK, Windham GC, Somberg L, Wolff C (2007). "Maternal residence near agricultural pesticide applications and autism spectrum disorders among children in the California Central Valley". Environ. Health Perspect.115 (10): 1482–9. doi:10.1289/ehp.10168. PMID 17938740. .

Silva MH, Gammon D (2009). "An assessment of the developmental, reproductive, and neurotoxicity of endosulfan". Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol 86 (1): 1–28. doi:10.1002/bdrb.20183. PMID 19243027.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. 2008. Pesticide Data Program: Annual summary, calendar year 2007.

Switchboard: Jennifer Sass's Blog

last revised 12/28/2011

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