Action Network: Urge the U.S. EPA to Fully Evaluate Aerial Herbicide Spraying
in Colombia, July 26, 2002
A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
Action Alert: Urge the U.S. EPA to Fully Evaluate Aerial Herbicide Spraying
July 26, 2002
The Colombian government
has announced that on July 28, 2002, it will begin a massive campaign
of aerial spraying of illicit coca plants in the southern Colombian state
of Putumayo. Spray campaigns in Colombia, which use glyphosate-based herbicides,
have caused widespread damage to crops, ecosystems and human health. The
campaigns are supposed to target large producers of coca and opium poppy
(the raw materials for cocaine and heroin), but the main victims are small
farmers and indigenous communities.
The compound that
is slated for use in the spray campaigns, known as Roundup SL, is more
highly toxic than Roundup formulations sold for use in the United States.
Label instructions put the formulation in the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's (EPA's) highest toxicity rating, Class 1. The label instructions
note that this formulation can cause irreversible eye damage. Of course,
it is difficult or impossible to ensure that EPA application guidelines
are followed in Colombia; and residents receive no warning before their
homes and farms are sprayed.
The spray campaigns
are supported by a massive U.S. military aid package. So far, neither
the U.S. nor the Colombian government has adequately reviewed the potential
health and environmental impacts of this particular spray mixture under
exposure conditions experienced in Colombia. Under the provisions of the
current aid package, however, the U.S. State Department cannot purchase
additional chemicals for the program unless EPA determines that the spray
campaigns meet U.S. safety standards. EPA is currently carrying out its
assessment of the spray campaigns.
The Regional Organization
of Indigenous Peoples of Putumayo (OZIP) and the 128 Indigenous Governing
Councils in the Department of Putumayo have issued an emergency plea to
the government of Colombia and the international community not to spray
their lands. The groups say the spray will destroy their food sources
and the natural resources they depend on for survival.
Colombia is one of
the world's most biologically diverse countries, with many endemic species
of plants and birds. Destruction of critical habitat in Colombia could
lead to extinction of endangered species.
The July 28 date
for new spray campaigns in Colombia marks the end of a several-month hiatus
of spraying in southern Colombia. However, spraying has occurred recently
in northern Colombia. In June, the Colombian government launched a spray
campaign against the northern Colombian community of El Catatumbo, in
the State of Norte de Santander, near the Venezuelan border. According
to press reports, residents reported the loss of thousands of fish; loss
of yucca, plantain, and corn crops; contamination of water supplies; and
skin infections that appear to have been caused by herbicide exposure.
One community leader reported in an interview that many fish have been
appearing dead in the Catatumbo River, and that chickens, horses, and
cattle have died. A local priest said that in the homes he visits during
the week, he has seen a dramatic increase in incidence of skin problems
A report prepared
by the Public Ombudsman in Colombia, a government oversight agency, and
summarized in English by the Interamerican Association for Environmental
Defense (AIDA), cites significant health and environmental impacts caused
by the spraying and urges that the program be suspended. The report urges
that scientific studies be conducted to determine the impact of the spraying
on the environment, wildlife and human health. If spraying does continue,
the report says, measures must be put in place to protect people from
exposure to the spray, monitor environmental effects, and coordinate inter-institutional
communication to prevent the indiscriminate spraying of small farms.
ACTION: Call, fax,
or email EPA administrator Christine Whitman. Urge EPA to evaluate thoroughly
all the existing evidence of harm and make results of this analysis available
to the public. In addition, ask the agency to answer the following pressing
Most literature distributed
by the U.S. State Department on the spray campaigns focuses on the active
ingredient, glyphosate, rather than on the complete herbicide formulations
used in the spray campaigns. What are the known or likely effects of the
entire formulation used in Colombia, including surfactants and other undisclosed
Colombia is one of
the world's most biologically diverse countries. What are the short- and
long-term effects of massive spray campaigns on ecologically sensitive
areas and endangered species?
To date, no reliable
studies have been published on the health effects of spray campaigns to
kill coca plants. Has EPA evaluated the statistical validity of any health
studies conducted by the U.S. State Department?
U.S. taxpayers are
supporting a program that is threatening the health and livelihoods of
rural Colombians. How will EPA make the results of its analysis public,
so that US citizens will have full information on the effects of the program
they are supporting?
Direct your message
Phone (202) 564-4700;
Fax (202) 501-1450
Anon., " Colombia Drug Sprayings to Resume," Associated Press,
July 6, 2002.
afectan cultivos del Catatumbo," El Tiempo, June 25, 2002.
"U.S. Law Imperils
Colombia Coca Spraying," New York Times, July 11, 2002.
the Colombian Ombudsman Office on the Eradication of Illicit Crops Through
Aerial Application of Chemicals: Executive Summary." Prepared by
the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), in collaboration
with the Colombian Ombudsman Office.
Institute for Science
and Interdisciplinary Studies,
Prescott House, 893 West St., Amherst, MA 01002;
phone (413) 559-5582;
Web site: http//mail.alumni.princeton.edu//jump/http://isis.hampshire.edu">
for Environmental Defense (AIDA)
c/o Earthjustice, 426 17th Street,
6th Floor, Oakland, CA 94612-2820;
Web site "http://mail.alumni.princeton.edu//jump/http://www.aida2.org"
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