Last Updated:12/15/02
Report on Verification Mission, "Impacts in Ecuador of fumigations in Putumayo as part of Plan Colombia," October 2002

Report on Verification Mission

“Impacts in Ecuador of fumigations in Putumayo as part of Plan Colombia”

October 2002

We thank the Joint Armed Forces Command of Ecuador for enabling us to move about Ecuador's border territory, as well as local authorities of the communities we visited in Colombia for facilitating our access to the places we examined.

Prepared by:

Acción Ecológica Adolfo Maldonado
                                                                   Lucía Gallardo
ALDHU              Talía Alvarez
Asociación Americana de Juristas (AAJ)      Galo Chiriboga
                            Raúl Moscoso
CEDHU                                             Elsy Monge
Ecociencia           Fernando Rodríguez
Patricio Benalcázar
Laboratorio de Suelos (LABSU)                     José Luis Pazmiño
RAPAL Ecuador   David Reyes
SERPAJ                Jhonny Jiménez
Acción Creativa  Juan Pablo Barragán

With support from:

American Friends Services Committee          Lina Cahuasquí


The constant concern about the hazards of spraying the herbicide glyphosate and its effects on Ecuador's border territory has brought together various organizations to conduct a verification mission aimed at determining how it has affected the population in Colombia and Ecuador living alongside the San Miguel River, in the sectors of Aguas Blancas, La Pedregosa, Nueva Granada, and Los Cristales, in Colombia, and Chone 2 and Puerto Nuevo, in Ecuador (see map). The results of this verification are as follows:

  • The new fumigation period to eliminate illicit crops that started on July 28 in the Department of Putumayo, in Colombia, and on the border zone, in Ecuador, has triggered severe impacts on the population's health and on crops, animals, and ways of living.
  • The work done by the multidisciplinary and inter-institutional team in the border zone and the calculation of distances with GPS from the points where there were fumigations up to the San Miguel River have made it possible to corroborate that no attention has been paid to the requests made by Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs or by the Ecuadorian Ambassador to Colombia, regarding the establishment of a buffer zone for the fumigations, preventing fumigation within a perimeter of 8 to 10 km from the San Miguel River (binational limit) inside Colombian territory.
  • Regarding this, it was confirmed that fumigations are affecting Ecuadorian territory.  In some cases, spraying extends up to the bank of the San Miguel River, and planes are infringing upon Ecuador's air space.  In addition, because of the air currents chemicals drift into Ecuador and severely damage the way of life of Ecuador's border population.
  • Medical tests have established a relationship between the symptomatology described by the population and that stemming from the inactivation of cholinesterase, which is the effect coming from organophosphates.  The central nervous system is overstimulated, which causes the following:  headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, stomachache, and weakness.  To these symptoms must be added others that are specific to Roundup Ultra, characterized by intense eye and skin irritation.
  • Blood samples drawn from inhabitants of the border zone call attention to the risk involved in fumigating a population that has chromosome fragility levels that are 17 times higher than normal.  This situation poses questions about the incidence of recent fumigation in increasing chromosome aberrations that have been detected or, if they are due to other factors that have not as yet been determined, about the negative influence on a population that is already at risk.  This situation is extremely sensitive, because chromosome vulnerability implies that cancer, mutations, malformations, and abortions may appear more easily.
  • Inhabitants of the area reported having seen two different types of fumigations (one involving a whitish liquid and the other brown dust), and this has led us to analyze plant samples to discount the possibility that the biological agent Fusarium oxysporum is being used despite prohibitions currently in force.  Should this be the case, it would mean that biological agents identified as biological weapons were being used, which would evidently have severe international implications.  Although constraints for the technical analysis for detection prevented us from determining the species, the genus Fusarium was found in all of the samples that were taken, whether roots, leaves, or soil.
  • The damage to both subsistence and cash crops, whether entire crops or a very large share of them, has affected this region's population, bringing it to the brink of a food crisis and forced displacement.  These peoples are not receiving any health support or compensations to offset their losses.


Aerial fumigations, as part of the Plan Colombia, officially started in the Department of Putumayo on December 22, 2000.  By January 28, 2001, about 29,000 hectares had been fumigation; during 2001, according to the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, 94,000 hectares were fumigated.  The U.S. Administration is planning to expand the fumigation area to 150,000 hectares during 2002 and to 200,000 hectares during 2003, which will heighten socio-environmental and health impacts on the people in the border area.

1.a  The chemical formula used

Although it has been impossible to confirm the chemical mix that is being sprayed, according to the technical parameters of the National Narcotic Drugs Council for the aerial fumigation of illicit crops, [1] the following amounts are being applied in the mix:

Plan load

300 – 450 gallons

1137 – 1705 liters

Effective unloading (of Roundup Ultra, with 43.9% of glyphosate)

23.4 liters/hectare

(30 tp 50 drops/cm2)

10.3 L/ha of glyphosate

Deposit of mix

0.4 – 0.7 mm3/cm2

40 – 70 liters/ha

The mix used contains: 44% of Roundup Ultra, whereas the label for use in the United States for Roundup Ultra permits concentrations of between 1.6% and 7.7% for the majority of uses and a maximum concentration of 29%.  The U.S. label indicates that, under most conditions, the aerial application should not be over 1 liter (quart) per acre of the formulated product.  In Colombia, the rate is equivalent to almost 4.5 times this amount. [2]

If it is estimated that a 300-gallon plane (1,137 liters) drops 40 L/ha of mix, with an effective drop of 23.4 L/ha of Roundup Ultra; this drop is equivalent to 10.3 L/ha of glyphosate in the form of IPA salts.  This means that the glyphosate is applied in concentrations of 26%, not at the 1% rate recommended in the United States for land applications, with protection gear and aimed at farm weeds.  To this situation must be added the fact that Cosmo Flux 411F multiplies the biological action of glyphosate fourfold.

1.b  Impacts of fumigations in Colombia in 2001

The fumigations in Colombia have sparked a major debate, in view of the many reports of damage to licit crops and especially to the health of the population living in the areas adjacent to the areas of fumigation.

In the Municipality of Valle del Guamuez, which lies on the Ecuadorian border, a consolidated report on the impacts stemming from fumigations was issued:  1,551 persons had their health affected, 3,174 hectares of licit crops were destroyed, and 55,045 animals were affected or died, distributed across 44 precincts. 

This report, prepared by the Police Station, [3] focuses on damage to crops and animals, broken down as follows:

Damage to crops and animals in the Valle del Guamuez (Colombia)- 2001



























Guinea pigs

























1.c  Impacts on Ecuador of the fumigations in Colombia in 2001

In October 2000, the press reported the first impacts on health in Mataje (Esmeraldas) associated to the fumigations in the Department of Nariño, with 44 persons falling sick after the first fumigation (El Comercio, Quito, October 22, 2000).

In January, El Comercio reported on the impacts in the province of Sucumbíos stemming from fumigations in December (El Comercio, Quito, January 12, 2001).

Months later, 188 campesinos from different communities filed a report with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Lago Agrio, which was transferred to the Ombudsman in Quito, where its processing came to a standstill.  The report set forth the claims of the campesinos of the parishes of General Farfán, Nueva Loja, Pacayacu, Dureno, and Tarapoa.  The claim noted the following losses:

Damage to crops and animals in Sucumbíos  (Ecuador)– 2001


No. of hectares damaged



No. of dead animals





























Guinea pigs



























Despite huge loses for subsistence and household farming, no government official has traveled to the areas to check, in the field, the damage reported in this claim.

1.d  Impacts of fumigations in Colombia in 2002

The second phase of fumigations started on July 28, 2002.  Despite the short time that has elapsed, reports are piling up in the following institutions:

-          The Municipality of Puerto Asís [4] reported that, since August 11, 2002, it has been fumigated, and this has “affected more than 2,254 families (from 58 precincts), some of whom are beneficiaries of the Manual Eradication Program."

-          A report from Agroamazonía [5] dated September 23, 2002 describes how palm heart plantations have been affected in the Valle del Guamuez, Puerto Asís, and Orito. Out of 32 palm heart growers covering 54.8 hectares of sown crops, damage has been reported in 43.8 hectares, which accounts for 80% of farmed area.

-          The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman for the Colombian People [6] asserted the following on October 9: “3.9.5 In addition to the previous reports, in the department there have been complaints about harm to the health of the inhabitants, presumably caused by fumigations.  The report of the Deputy Department of Public Health of the Department of Putumayo on the impacts of fumigations in various municipalities of this territorial institution informed that “(…) 4,883 (85%) of the 5,929 persons referred to in the complaint forms and interrogated by the officials of the Technical Assistance Unit of Orito and coming from 46.4% of the 282 precincts comprising the three municipalities, spoke about symptoms that can be attributed to the fumigation.  The symptoms were associated to respiratory problems 29% (964), gastrointestinal problems 26.4% (876), skin problems 15.8% (524), psychological problems 1.9% (64), fever 15.5% (516), general indisposition 5.4% (179), dizziness 4.1% (32) and others 0.9% (29)”. This report adds that, in the Hospital de la Hormiga, there was “a statistically significant rise in episodes of fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, acute respiratory infections, and skin infections.”  The report concludes: “An epidemiological surveillance system for acute intoxication caused by pesticides and a nutritional surveillance system are required.” [7]

1.e  Impacts on Ecuador of fumigations in Colombia 2002

The “Santa Marianita” Association of Campesinos [8] of the Parish of General Farfán, comprised of 27 members, reported that after the recent fumigations in Colombia they have suffered from “skin and eye diseases, respiratory infections, fevers like those resulting from malaria, but tests turn out to be negative.  Females animals have problems when giving birth and we have noted a fall in the production of corn, cacao, rice, bananas, to such an extent that we cannot get our investment back.”

The Chone 2, Puerto Nuevo and La Playera communities on the Tetetes road, in the parishes of Pacayacu, reported damage to their crops and animals.  Likewise, they spoke of severe damage and health problems in the border community of Cohembí.

1.f  Government actions

On July 2, 2001, the Ecuadorian Government requested the Colombian Government:

-        “that the applications of chemical formulas used on its territory take place at least 10 kilometers away from the Ecuadorian border, so as to prevent the dispersion caused by winds from reaching Ecuadorian territory and producing toxic effects on persons and plant life.” [9]

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia replied to this request [10] on July 14, 2001 and stated:

-        The Colombian Government has adopted the necessary precautions in programming its fumigations.  In its substantive part, it proposed holding a Seminar-Workshop in Colombia, where the Government of this country “would have the opportunity to provide all the technical information required by Ecuadorian officials, for the purpose of addressing all existing concerns and building up a spirit of binational cooperation." During the Seminar-Workshop on the Eradication of Illicit Crops held in Bogotá, Colombia on February 13-15, 2002, the Colombian delegation pledged "to ensure an 8 to 10-kilometer buffer zone without any chemical spraying from the San Miguel River, which is the binational border limit, inside Colombian territory.”


On the basis of this background, a multidisciplinary inter-agency commission was established, comprised of the Latin American Association for Human Rights (Asociación Latinoamericana para los Derechos Humanos, ALDHU); the Network for Action and Alternatives to Pesticides (Red para Acción y Alternativas a los Plaguicidas, RAPALl – Ecuador); and Ecological Action (Acción Ecológica), along with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Sucumbíos, Laboratories Labsu, Creative Action (Acción Creativa) and some of the media.

The purpose of this Commission was to conduct a Verification Mission to study the impacts of fumigations on the border and corroborate reports that were received, by doing field tests that would demonstrate the degree of vulnerability and disease of the border population.  For this purpose, the Commission traveled to the province of Sucumbíos, in the zone of the Tetetes road, at the end of September 2002.

The objectives of the mission were:

1.       To determine if the distance of the fumigations observes the request made by the Ecuadorian Government to keep a 10-kilometer safety strip inside Colombian territory to safeguard the rights of Ecuadorians.

2.       To check the reports on the impacts of the fumigations for the health of the inhabitants of the zone and corroborate a report on the decease of five persons in Cohembí (Ecuador).

3.       To analyze the crops affected by the fumigations, check the alleged use of Fusarium oxysporum, and determine soil nutrients and to what extent they have been affected.


3.a. Objective 1: Determine if the distance of the fumigations observes the request made by the Ecuadorian Government to keep a 10-kilometer safety strip inside Colombian territory to safeguard the rights of Ecuadorians.

The Seminar-Workshop on the Eradication of Illicit Crops that was offered by the Colombian Government took place in Bogotá, Colombia on February 13-15, 2002, in order to “illustrate its program for eradicating illicit crops and providing all the technical information that government officials might need.”

The Seminar was attended by “high-level political, rather than technical, authorities, responsible for drug policymaking in Colombia, (…) the Ecuadorian delegation questioned the absence of technicians from the corresponding ministries (Agriculture and Livestock, Health and Environment) and (…) the informative lectures were delivered to an audience comprised largely of policemen, fumigation pilots and politicians.” [11]

Despite these constraints and the absence of official analysis and information at this event that would have enabled the Ecuadorian Government to take preventive, remedial, and precautionary measures for future fumigations and to establish emergency programs for the border population, the Seminar was able to draw at least three important, decisive conclusions, in line with what was requested by the Ecuadorian Government through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

a)      A 8 to 10 kilometer safety strip away from the binational border toward the interior of Colombian territory will not be fumigated (in this buffer zone manual eradication programs will be used).

b)      Research on the impacts on water, soil, flora and fauna in shared ecosystems needs to be conducted.

c)      The program for eradicating illicit crops does not have an Epidemiological Surveillance System.

At this event, the Ecuadorian Ambassador to Colombia, Fernando Ribadeneira, reiterated Ecuador's request regarding the “advisability of fumigating, as long as a safety strip of up to 10 kilometers away from the border is observed so as to safeguard the population and territory of Ecuadorian from the possible damaging effects of this spraying.” [12]

The commitment to respect the 8-10 km buffer zone in the fumigation program was clearly stated by four of the lecturers representing the Colombian Government:


“We have not fumigated up to a margin of at least 7 kilometers away from the Ecuadorian border.” [13]  Dr. Richard Baca, Director of the Anti-Narcotics Agency (NAS) of the U.S. Embassy in Colombia.

“A strip of 8 to 10 kilometers away from Ecuador is no longer being fumigated.” [14] Luis Parra, Advisor to the NAS in the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, and Major Vargas, Field Visit Coordinator.

“Fumigations are taking place at a distance of 8 to 10 kilometers away from the Ecuadorian border.” [15] General Gustavo Socha, Director of the Anti-Narcotics Police.

Despite the above, the results of the verification conducted in the border zone have led to the conclusion that this government agreement has not been observed and Colombia continues to spray along the Ecuadorian border.  Since 2001, local reports have referred to fumigation planes violating Ecuadorian air space so as to turn around and continue spraying.  If concrete evidence is provided to prove this, it points to a direct attack on Ecuadorian territorial sovereignty.

To check the distance of the fumigations made on the border, the verification mission entered Colombian territory and, with GPS equipment, proceeded to identify the zones fumigated in Colombia and their distance from the San Miguel River.  It obtained the following results:

GPS points and distance to the border from Colombia




18° North


Distance to Ecuador

La Pedregosa    (Col)


248 m



6 m

Nueva Granada (Col)


266 m



1,412 m

Nueva Granada (Col)


275 m



1,635 m

La Pedregosa    (Col)


270 m



706 m

Los Cristales     (Col)


270 m



8,285 m

Aguas Blancas  (Col)


276 m



6,981 m

Aguas Blancas  (Col)


292 m



6,986 m

-        In Pedrera (point 7), six meters from the San Miguel River, signs of crops destroyed by fumigation, possibly from wind drifts, were found.

-        At point 10, severe impacts were observed, since the area was sprayed directly at 706 meters away from the border.

-        In the precinct of Nueva Granada (points 8 and 9), at 1,600 meters from the border, eye-witness accounts by the population reported that, between August 30 and September 6, planes fumigated directly onto their houses.  As proof of this, on the football field, located in the middle of the town, there were large rings of chlorosis.  The schoolteacher stated that her 35 students fell ill with headaches, sore and runny eyes, and fever.

-        In Aguas Blancas (points 15 and 16), at a distance of 7 to 8 km from the border, there were clear signs that all kinds of crops had been destroyed.

-        In Los Cristales (point 14), there were eye-witness accounts of airplanes flying over the houses and spraying them on August 1 and 18, 2002, without any consideration for how it would be affecting homes, food crops, and water sources.

GPS points and distance to border from Ecuador




18° North


Distance to Colombia

Frente La Pedregosa


257 m



186 m

Puerto Nuevo


276 m



13 m

Chone – 2


260 m



1,236 m

Chone – 2


255 m



584 m

Playera Oriental


263 m



526 m

Playera Oriental


257 m



743 m

Playera Oriental


253 m



622 m

Playera Oriental


277 m



702 m

Playera Oriental


256 m



Reference river   0 m

Chone - 2


261 m



1,257 m

-        In La Playera Oriental and Chone 2 (between 1 and 1,257 m from the bank of the San Miguel River, evident damage from the fumigation of September 6, 2002 on the Colombian side of the banks of the San Miguel River was observed.  At all points, soil and plant samples were taken, health data on the population were gathered, and eye-witness accounts on social impacts were recorded.

-        In front of La Pedregosa (point 12, at 186 m inside Ecuadorian territory) damage was found in the banana plantations and other crops, which showed signs of chlorosis (yellowing), as a result of the proximity of fumigations in Colombia.  The accounts pointed out that these impacts stemmed from the fumigations done on the Colombian side between August 30 and September 6, 2002.

What was observed by the verification mission, the results from the samples that were taken, the eye-witness accounts that were recorded, and the interviews that were conducted enable us to assert that the fumigations in Colombia are taking place less than 10 kilometers away from the Ecuadorian border.  On the basis of the above, it can be concluded that, at the time of the mission, the request made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ecuadorian Ambassador to Colombia had not been met.

In some cases, there were fumigations as close as the banks of the San Miguel River.  The drifting of sprayed products has caused severe harm to the Ecuadorian border population.

3.b Objective 2: Check the reports of impacts of fumigations on the health of the inhabitants of the zone and corroborate a report on the death of five persons in Cohembí (Ecuador).

In June 2001, Ecological Action published a Research Report [16] on the impacts of fumigations of January 2001 on the border of Sucumbíos.  The report showed that:

-          100% of the population living in the border zone had been intoxicated by the Roundup Ultra fumigations over a 5 km strip, and 89% of the population, if the strip is extended to 10 km.

-          Three months after the fumigations, the population up to 5 km kept showing symptoms of chronic intoxication with signs of neurological impairment, skin problems and conjunctivitis.

-          There is a direct linkage, in terms of time, between fumigations and the appearance of disease.

-          There is a direct linkage between the distance of site that was fumigated and symptomatology.  The symptomatology in the population declines in proportion to the distance of the fumigated site.

-          The possibility of new fumigations on the population that is already suffering from symptoms of chronic intoxication may cause an impact of incalculable consequences for their lives.

-          The population, which has suffered from the impacts of the fumigation, has become frantic.  They do not benefit from any economic support, compensation, or suitable care for their health, which has been undermined by a fumigation program that renders them invisible.

-          The negative impacts on the population's health and its nutritional status may increase if no adequate measures are taken to offset the failure of their crops and the death of their livestock and barnyard animals.

-          The permanence of Roundup in the soil (from 120 days to 3 years) has generated considerable uncertainty among the population regarding the future of their crops.

Because of prevailing winds at that time of year, communities such as San Francisco 1 and 2, Nuevo Mundo, San Miguel, 10 de Agosto, Proyecto San Miguel, and Perla del Pacífico, among others, were severely affected. Today, on the Tetetes road, most of these conclusions also hold true.

The report also recorded the death of four children during the first days of fumigation.  Reports from the Colombian Red Cross, the Hospital del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, Valle del Guamuez, the Municipal Police Station (from the same station), health solidarity companies (empresas solidarias de salud, ESS), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman,… include documents and clinical histories referring to persons who were affected by the fumigations.

Regarding the reports about the death of five persons in the community of Cohembí, it was not possible to corroborate whether these deaths were caused or motivated by the fumigations.  Logistic and security constraints have prevented access to this community.

Because of this situation, the verification mission traveled to a zone that was also affected by the fumigations, but enjoyed better access conditions.  For this inspection, the Commission undertook two health studies:  a comparative study of the impacts of fumigation on the health of the population of both Ecuador and Colombia; and a study based on blood tests to identify potential chromosome alterations.

3.b.1 FIRST STUDY: Clinical histories

Out of a universe of 199 families, 33 families were surveyed (16.6% of total), distributed among six communities, two in Colombia and four in Ecuador, with a total population of 657 persons in Ecuador and 470 in Colombia.

Distribution of affected persons by community studied

Locality surveyed

Families surveyed

Total No. of families


Persons in the families

Percentage affected

Chone – 2






Playera Oriental






Palma Seca






Puerto Nuevo






Nueva Granada (Col)






Los Cristales     (Col)






The average of affected persons among both populations is 88.5% in Colombia compared to 80% in Ecuador. The comparative table of symptoms between one population and the other can be appreciated in the chart on the “Impacts of fumigations on health in Ecuador and Colombia”.

From the clinical histories that were examined, we can infer the following: 

-          A large majority of the population after the fumigations has felt adverse impacts such as headaches and eye irritation and tearfulness.  In the Colombian communities that were more intensely fumigated, it was common to find digestive problems, with dizziness, abdominal pains, vomiting and nausea, diarrhea, fatigue and loss of energy.  This symptomatology is typical of organophosphates, which is the group that Roundup Ultra belongs to.  The presence of fever in Colombia is also significantly more widespread than in Ecuador.

-          Another group of symptoms appears because of skin diseases.  A great deal of pruritus (itchiness) is associated to different diseases, ranging from dermatitis (inflammation) to the appearance of pimples for different reasons.  The irritation caused by the chemical is evident in this symptomatology, which also occurs in the eyes, which has a higher incidence on the Ecuadorian side than the digestive symptoms.

-          Some campesinos indicated that there are two types of fumigations:  one involving a whitish or transparent fluid and the other a dark color, after which there is a powerful "itch."

-          The psychological impact that the fumigations exert on the campesinos of Ecuador is different from that on Colombia.  Whereas the former display stress which leads to insomnia, the Colombians are depressive as a result of the complex reality that the inhabitants of this zone have to live through, heightened by the impacts of fumigations.

The symptomatology described by the population is consistent with what is produced as a result of the inactivation of cholinesterase, which is the impact of the organophosphates.  The central nervous system is overstimulated, which in turn causes:  headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, stomachaches, and fatigue.  This symptomatology is accompanied by the specific components of this product, which produces acute eye and skin irritation.


3.b.2 SECOND STUDY:  Blood test results

One of the principal arguments of those who are for eliminating illicit crops by using pesticides is the claim that Roundup Ultra is harmless. [17]   Nevertheless, it is well known that the active ingredients used in elaborating pesticides for commercial use exert adverse effects on health, not only for the end-consumers of the foods that are treated but also for the workers who have been exposed to them. [18] Among the effects caused by pesticides, the most important is genotoxicity, defined as the facility of producing alterations in the genetic material and therefore, the propensity for cancer, mutations, and alterations of the embryo.

The blood tests that were taken were aimed at determining if the population affected by the fumigations showed any significant alterations in their chromosomes.  To do this the following was used: a) “comet assay” and b) cytogenetic analysis, to look for chromosome aberrations (CA). Both tests are different, but complementary and have proven to be adequate biomarkers for chromosome fragility.

“Biomonitoring studies in human populations show that an increase in CA frequency is related to exposure to genotoxic agents, and it is know that there is an association between the frequency of CA and the risk of developing cancer.  Duplication in the incidence of cancer in individuals with a high frequency of CA has been reported, therefore the analysis of CA can be used to estimate the risk of cancer and genetic diseases.” [19]

At first, it was expected that eight samples would be taken, because this is the laboratory's maximum capacity for analysis.  Unfortunately, persons on the Colombian side did not arrive on time for the sample taking and so, for this first study, we only had four samples from Ecuadorian persons.  Despite the low representativity of the samples that were taken, the results obtain have encouraged us to publish this report and to propose undertaking more extensive and systematic analyses of the impacts on the health of the population in the border zone affected by fumigations.

Bearing in mind that fumigations have increased in the Department of Putumayo and that there have been fumigations once again in the area where the samples were taken (October 4, 2002), we believe that it is urgent to analyze and determine the scope of the risk that the population located on the border is running.

Procedure.  Four persons were evaluated: three women and one man, with an average age of 39 years old (women of 37, 40 and 53 years of age; 27-year-old man).  The women received the impact of the fumigations at a distance of 200 meters; whereas the man's body was sprayed with fluid while he was working.  All were exposed on the same dates and during a period of about one week. The samples were taken two weeks after the exposure.  One of the women had traveled to Lago Agrio a week earlier because of the symptomatology secondary to the fumigations.  None of them smoke, nor do they have any other contact with chemicals or other genotoxic elements.

The tests were examined at the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Human Cytogenetics of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE) and they consisted of:

Comet assay:

It is a test that is very sensitive to changes or alterations in one or two of the DNA cell chains on which genotoxic agents have acted.  It has the advantage of being rapid in obtaining results.  This test was developed by Singh (1988) and in Ecuador there are many activities for which the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Human Cytogenetics of PUCE carries out this test.  At present, it is used in clinics, human monitoring, radiation in biology, and genetic toxicology, among others.  It has been demonstrated that the test is very sensitive for the surveillance of chemicals and complex genotoxic mixtures.

In short, the test consists of subjecting cells to an electrical field.  If there is no damage to the cell, the genetic material remains unaltered and the nuclei of the cells appear to be circular.  The greater the damage to the genetic material, however, the more deformed are the nuclei of the cells and the more they look like comets trailing through space, and that is where they get their name from; depending on the amount of damage, the tail of the comet will be more or less dispersed (see photo and table below).




no damage




average damage

- 2%


112.5nm - +

severe damage

- 1 %



mild damage



75 – 110nm

high damage

- 1 %


The same valuation

Image lent by the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics (PUCE)


The results obtained from this test are highly significant.  The analyses support the claim that the persons who were tested are subject to a high risk of suffering from cancer.




# 3-CHROMOSOME FRAGILITY: 30.0%                  # 4-CHROMOSOME FRAGILITY: 28%


The results highlight the following: where there should be no more than 0.5% of damaged cells, we have found 48.3%, in case 1; 47.6%, in case 2; 69.4%, in case 3; and 58.8%, in case 4.  In other words, there is a genetic damage that is between 11 and 17 times higher than normal.

Cytogenetic analysis:  

Lymphocytes of peripheral blood were studied and chromosomes were examined to look for structural alterations (such as breaks) and numerical alterations (loss of chromosomes or duplications).  This analysis evaluates exposure to genotoxins and is internationally recognized.

The results of the cytogenetic tests are as follows: “In all the cases that were studied, there was a sign of much lesser mitotic division than what is considered normal.  The data obtained, compared with the control group established in the laboratory, with a range of 2-4%, highlight a statistically significant damage in these individuals.” [20] The percentage of chromosome fragility for each one of the samples was 20%, 21.4%, 28%, and 30%; compared to 2 to 4%, this means that their parameters are 10 to 15 times higher than normal parameters.  Their average chromosome fragility is 24.85%.

A study conducted by the same laboratory in the province of Pichincha in a flower plantation showed that the workers who were examined had an average chromosome fragility of 18.29%, with 30 times more chromosome aberrations that the control group.  On the basis of these data, it was stated that "the cytogenetic findings provide evidence that exposure to pesticides produces lesions to the DNA, which increases the mutagenic and carcinogenic risks in populations that are exposed because their occupations.” [21]

Another study [22] from the same laboratory analyze the chromosome aberrations occurring among hospital workers exposed to low levels of radiation.  The average (24.8) coincides with the one appearing in the group from the border zone.  This study was able to observe that maintaining exposure to the genotoxin over time increased chromosome aberrations and therefore the risk of suffering from cancer.

The results of the analyses obtained on the border are even higher than those found in the flower plantation and it has been confirmed that the analysis of chromosome aberrations is a reliable factor for predicting cancer and can measure the evolution, prognosis, and treatment of cervical lesions associated to the human papillomavirus. [23]  

On the basis of these results and bearing in mind the data from other similar studies, two hypotheses have been suggested, although they will have to be tested by further studies.

1.  Fumigations may be the cause of these chromosome aberrations and, if so, they influence the risk of cancer among the exposed population.

2.  Another chemical element may the cause of these chromosome aberrations in the genetic material.  In this case, the fumigations may be increasing the risk of pathologies in a population that is already especially sensitive.

Whichever of the two hypotheses is accepted, it is evident that both highlight the need for further, more in-depth studies on the health impacts for the population exposed to fumigations, to be carried out systematically and with the participation of the respective government institutions and with the mechanisms permitting comparisons of the results of these studies.

3.b Objective 3: Analyze the crops that are affected by the fumigations, check the alleged use of Fusarium oxysporum and determine soil nutrients and to what extent they have been affected

After learning about the results of the blood tests, the words of Jeremy Bigwood, Advisor to the Ecuadorian delegation, appearing in the report attached to the analysis, are noteworthy: “Neither the Colombian Government nor the U.S. Government have investigated the environmental effects of various formulas that they have been using on different ecosystems in Colombia.  Such a massive use of herbicide formulas that have not been researched and the continuous substitution of one formula for another would never be allowed either in the United States or in the majority of the countries of the world.  As a result of this massive use of a formula that has not been used and the absence of research, Ecuador could well be facing a danger of unknown proportions.” [24]

The uncertainty regarding the chemical formula used in the program for the eradication of illicit crops, the absence of rigorous proof about the dosage used and the levels of concentration of the mixture, the lack of mechanisms to control them, the frequent contradictions by authorities responsible for this topic, and the silence of many of them are in sharp contrast to reports made by the population on the possibility of alternating fumigations (whitish fluid and others consisting of brown dust, after which there is severe itching).  Faced with this situation the question that is being asked is:  Is the chemical formula Roundup Ultra being used alternately with the pathogenic agent Fusarium oxysporum?

Because of the severity of the reports, in Ecuador and Colombia, samples were taken from the soil and plants to discount or confirm the presence of Fusarium oxysporum in Ecuador's territory.  The samples were sent for analysis to the Ecuadorian Agricultural and Livestock Sanitation Service (SESA), at its Phytopathology Laboratory on the Experimental Farm of Tumbaco, which is an agency attached to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

During the visit in Ecuador and Colombia, samples were taken from the grass, corn, peanuts, rice, and the soil.  A selection of samples was submitted to the laboratory for analysis, and they yielded the following results:

Table of samples and results





Playera Orient



Fusarium sp

Rhizoctonia sp


Playera Orient




Rhizopus sp.

Mucor sp.




Fusarium sp.

Rhizoctonia sp





Fusarium sp.

Rhizoctonia sp





Fusarium sp.

Rhizoctonia sp





Fusarium sp.

Alternaria sp.



Fusarium sp.

Rhizoctonia sp





Fusarium sp.

Rhizoctonia sp

Rhizopus sp.




Fusarium sp.

Rhizoctonia sp

Rhizopus sp.

Playera Orient



Fusarium sp.

Rhizoctonia sp


This first analysis did not yield conclusive results, because it only determined the genus.  Nevertheless, the presence of the Fusarium fungus in all the samples, not only on roots, which is its natural habitat, but also on leaves is noteworthy.

To broaden the study, a second step will be taken, consisting of sending these samples to laboratories outside the country to determine if the fungus involves the oxysporum species, that is, if it is Fusarium oxysporum and whether it has undergone some genetic alteration or not.  It is important to reiterate that the presence of Fusarium oxysporum has severe international and national implications because it is a biological agent used as a biological weapon.


The presence of this fungus could also be a consequence of the fumigations of glyphosate.  In his report, Bigwood [25] considers that: “glyphosate increases the growth of pathogenic fungi according to numerous scientific investigations.  These fungi predominate in an area in order to release their own toxins, which are toxic for many of the other nearby forms of life, including mammals. One of the genera that tend to increase in the presence of glyphosate is the genus Fusarium. (…) Species of this genus have been responsible throughout the world for severe damage to many crops, poisoned soil, birth defects in human beings and, in one documented case, the death of thousands of persons caused by their mycotoxins when contaminated cereals were eaten during the last years of the Second World War." Maybe this can explain their widespread presence, but it does not answer all of our questions.

As for the farm losses sustained by the campesino sector, it was observed that on the Colombian territory that was visited, 100% of the banana, grass, yucca (manioc), fruit, corn, and sugarcane crops were lost.  The damage and loss of animals amounted to: hens (10%), horses (50%), cattle (46%), and dogs (16%).

In Ecuador, the differences were significant depending on the distance from the San Miguel River, but in both communities that were studied, major and severe damage among the campesino families was apparent.

Loss of crops on the Ecuadorian side











Playera Orient










Chone - 2










This situation was prior to a second fumigation (October 4) that occurred after our visit and will be exerting new impacts on the crops.  The loss of animals was not observed on this side of the border on this occasion.

Analysis of plant nutrients:

The analyses of plant nutrients by Labsu [26] (Soil, Water, and Plant Laboratory in the city of Coca) have yielded the following results:

“Protein levels are highly deficient (…) the plant does not absorb this nutrient because of a possible external influence, which was clearly seen during the extraction of material for the study.  This plant was seen to be dry in its exposed parts and with rot at the level of the roots and stems.

The Dallis grass shows high levels of total phosphorus (glyphosate is an organophosphate) [27] , almost twice what is reported as normal in the literature (760 mg/kg). We deem that this information indicates an ABNORMAL situation, which means that the plant has not absorbed this excess from the soil because the soil where this material was extracted from shows adequate, not excessive, amounts of this element.  This excess could possibly come from an external influence that was directly applied to the leaves of the plant. ” [28]

It is clear that the presence of excess phosphorus is being caused by fumigation, and the data reveal that the amount of this element is as high as in the zones of Colombia where fumigations were directly applied (Nueva Granada, values of 1,136.5; 1,857.7; and 945.1), as in Chone 2, (where the result was 1,880.7 of total phosphorus).

The report concludes that “the samples that were studied have suffered from a negative external influence, which is reflected in the drying up and subsequent death of the plants.  We believe that this study should be done in the future to obtain further information.” [29]

Analysis of soil nutrients:

The results of the analyses, which were also conducted in LABSU, on soil nutrients did not reveal any alteration.  They conclude that “the soils that are studied do not entail any serious problem for agricultural development, except for some where fertilization has been undertaken.  Nevertheless, constant monitoring is considered necessary to determine the progress in the processes of soil and crop degradation. ” [30]

In view of the above, a new visit to the Ecuadorian zone is being planned in six months to examine the evolution of the soil's conditions.


1.      Contrary to statements about the lack of evidence, [31] we can hereby assert that fumigations exert severe impacts on the ecosystems, on the means of subsistence of the population, and on their health, not only in Colombia but also in Ecuador.

2.      The results found in the blood tests conclude that the population living along the border, because of alterations to their chromosomes, is exposed to a higher risk of suffering from cancer, mutations, and congenital deformities.  Fumigations may be at the origin of chromosome aberrations that were found or may trigger these diseases because they are acting on a population that is already at high risk.  The studies will continue.

3.      Fumigations have generated massive damage on the crops, some of which with the help of municipalities, as well as impacts on the health of the population and social alterations in the communities that have been affected.  The laboratory analyses show the widespread presence of Fusarium, as a possible secondary effect of Roundup Ultra on crops (we advise undertaking analyses to discard the possibility of other origins).  They also show that damage in Ecuador is due to the aerial drift from the fumigations.

4.      Colombian authorities are not observing the security buffer zone requested by the Ecuadorian Government.  Not only are there fumigations inside the 10-km protection zone that was requested, but also directly on the banks of the San Miguel River, which is the country's northern limit with the Colombian border.

5.      The fumigations are turning out to be ineffective in eliminating illicit crops and are forcing the displacement of the population.

6.      It is urgent to insist on the manual eradication of illicit crops in the border zone.

7.      Fumigations constitute a violation of social, economic, and cultural rights of the affected population and especially undermine the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, in view of the close relationship between the land and cultural survival.

8.      The impacts that were observed support the assertion that, in the areas that were visited, there is a food crisis as a result of the destruction of subsistence crops and the raising of animals.

9.      The absence of any monitoring of the impacts stemming from the fumigations along the border undermines the legitimacy of the State and jeopardizes the conditions of governance in the area, which also affects the enforcement of human rights.


-          Sustained by the Constitution's precautionary principle, which in Article 91 provides that the  Ecuadorian State “will take preventive measures in case there are doubts about the impact or negative consequences of an action or omission, although there is no scientific evidence of damage…,” we urge the National Government to start as quickly as possible the respective diplomatic actions and request the Colombian Government to stop fumigating the northern border zone, because signs of severe impacts on human health and the environment of Ecuador's border population have been found.

-          That the National Government start the investigations it deems advisable in order to examine more in-depth the reports and investigations that various social organizations have been submitting to it for its consideration since July 2001, so that, on the basis of substantial evidence, a formal complaint can be filed against the Colombian Government regarding the possible contamination of the border zone.

-          That in turn the National Government start the corresponding investigations to determine the presence or absence of Fusarium oxysporum on Ecuadorian territory and that its results be disseminated nationally through regular channels.  This subject should be dealt with in the National Security Council (COSENA), because if the presence of pathogenic biological agents is confirmed, we would be dealing with a case of biological warfare, which would involve filing a protest for violation of international agreements on the restriction of the use of biological weapons.

-          That their effects be remedied and the affected population compensated, because the hunger stemming from the loss of their crops and animals must be relieved and offset to prevent them from being displaced and seeking shelter elsewhere.  Otherwise, the basic rights of this population would be violated.

-          That the border zone be declared in a state of sanitary and agricultural/livestock emergency.  That the Ministries of Health and Agriculture take over the zone to provide care directly and free of charge and an effective response to the harm that the population is already suffering.


-          That social and psychological care plans be implemented for the population affected by the fumigations.  These plans should consider programs aimed at having children and young people who have dropped out of school for the lack of resources or because of disease return to school. 

ANNEX:  Results of the analyses: comet assay, chromosome fragility, and results of the Phytopathology Laboratory on Fusarium.

Annex:  Effects of fumigations on health in Ecuador and Colombia 2002



Bone pains

Runny eyes




General itchiness


Altered vision




Energy loss







[1] National Narcotic Drugs Council: “Informe de actividades y funciones de auditoría ambiental de noviembre de 1999” Taken from Nivia, E. “Las fumigaciones sí son peligrosas” May 2001.

[2] Isacson, A. “Cumplimiento con las Condiciones de Fumigación en la Iniciativa Antidrogas Andina”. Center for International Policy, April 2002

[3] Pabón, A. “Consolidado general de las pérdidas por la fumigación hasta el 19 de enero de 2001”. Municipality of Valle del Guamuez. Municipal Police Station.

[4] Martínez, L. Letter addressed to the Minister of Environment of Colombia, Cecilia Rodríguez. August 20, 2002. Puerto Asís.

[5] Carmona, J.A. “Reporte de áreas afectadas por fumigación” August 1 to September 23, 2002.

[6] Cifuentes, E. Resolución Defensorial # 026. October 2002.

[7] Deputy Department of Public Health of the Department of Putumayo: “Efectos de las fumigaciones en los municipios de Valle de Guamuéz, San Miguel y Orito Putumayo – Colombia diciembre de 2001”.

[8] Ordoñez, J. Letter addressed to Acción Ecológica. September 2002.

[9] Moeller, H. Letter addressed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia: Mr. Guillermo Fernández de Soto, in Note No. 55416/2001-GM/SOI/SSN of July 2, 2001.

[10] Ministry of  Foreign Affairs of Colombia. Note DM/AL No. 25009 of July 14, 2001 (as quoted by Melania Yánez in her undated report: “Aclaraciones con respecto al informe realizado por la misión diplomática del Ecuador en Colombia acerca del Seminario sobre Erradicación de Cultivos Ilícitos. Bogotá, 13 – 15 de febrero del 2001”. )

[11] Yánez, M. “Aclaraciones con respecto al informe realizado por la misión diplomática del Ecuador en Colombia acerca del Seminario sobre Erradicación de Cultivos Ilícitos. Bogotá, 13 – 15 de febrero del 2001”. undated

[12] Joint report of the Seminar-Workshop on the Eradication of Illicit Crops, Bogotá, Colombia, February 13-15, 2002. Executive Summary, page 4

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., page 6

[16] Acción Ecológica. “Reporte de la investigación de los impactos por las fumigaciones en la frontera ecuatoriana”. Quito, June 2001

[17] The U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador declared that Round Up Ultra is less harmful than table salt or baby shampoo. El Comercio, January 2001.

[18] Ballantyne, B. et col. General and Applied Toxicology. Stockton Press, New York, 1994.

[19] Paz y Miño, C. et col. “Monitoreo citogenético en población ecuatoriana expuesta ocupacionalmente a pesticidas”. Rev. Fac. Cs. Med. Vol. 25, No. 1, page 15, April 2000. Quito, Ecuador.

[20] Results of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Human Cytogenetics of PUCE.

[21] Paz y Miño, C. et col. “Monitoreo citogenético en población ecuatoriana expuesta ocupacionalmente a pesticidas”. Rev. Fac. Cs. Med. Vol. 25, No. 1, page 20, April 2000. Quito, Ecuador.

[22] Paz y Miño, C. et col. “Follow up study of chromosome aberrations in lymphocytes in hospital workers occupationally exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation. Elsevier Science B.V. 1995

[23] Paz y Miño, C. et col. “Chromosome Fragility in Lymphocytes of Women with Cervical Uterine Lesions Produced by Human Papillomavirus”. Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc New York. 1992

[24] Bigwood, J. “Breve resumen de la literatura científica con respecto a los efectos nocivos de formulaciones que contienen glifosato en biotas acuáticas y suelos,”. page 1. Paper elaborated for the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador. 

[25] Ibid., page 4.

[26] Pazmiño, J.L. Soil, Water, and Plant Laboratory of the Apostolical Vicar's Office of Aguarico -Francisco de Orellana- Informe 1923, October 9, 2003.

[27] Author's note: Parentheses added.

[28] Pazmiño, J.L.; Informe de análisis No. 1923. Francisco de Orellana, Ecuador, October 2002

[29] Ibid.

[30] Pazmiño, J.L.; Informe de análisis No. 1922. Francisco de Orellana, Ecuador, Octiber 2002.

[31] It cannot be guaratneed that the aerial spraying of chemical formulas used do not involve risks for the ecosystem.” Conclusion of the joint report of the Seminar-Workshop on the Eradication of Illicit Crops, Bogotá, Colombia, February 13-15, 2002. Executive Summary, page 1.

Search WWW Search ciponline.org

Financial Flows
National Security

Center for International Policy
1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 801
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-3317 / fax (202) 232-3440