December 2009 was the twenty fifth anniversary of the 1984 pesticide factory explosion in Bhopal India. We mark this anniversary with an update on the current situation in Bhopal. Many of you will be surprised to hear that the factory site, located right in the heart of the old city of Bhopal, has never been cleaned up. One article presents recent analyses of ground and drinking water in the area showing that they are contaminated with chemicals leaching from the site and that this pollution seems to be spreading (page 16). A second article evaluates that health care burden placed on Bhopal survivors. The percentage of their income required to pay for health care is greater than that paid by other low income people in India (page 20). Bhopal survivors must forgo other essentials to pay for their basic health care needs.
The controversy over GM crops continues and two articles in this issue add to the debate. Chuck Benbrook examines 13 years of GM crops in the US quantifying their impacts on pesticide use (page 12). While Bt crops have led to reductions in pesticide use these have been dwarfed by massive increases in herbicide use as a result of glyphosate-resistant crops. One of the main reasons is the rise of weeds resistant to glyphosate. These weeds are not killed by standard applications of glyphosate so farmers are applying higher doses and/or applying additional herbicides. A second article from Pete Riley reports on the rise of herbicide-resistant weeds (page 3). There are now seven weeds with biotypes that are resistant to glyphosate in the US soya and maize belt and these are spreading.
The struggle to remove methyl bromide from use has been long and drawn out. The Montreal Protocol came into force in 1989 with the express purpose of phasing out the use of ozone-depleting substances, such as methyl bromide. Despite decades of resistance from manufacturers, the European Union has finally banned its use. But methyl bromide promoters are pressing for its re-registration (page 15).
We also bring you an article on the health impacts of organophosphate pesticides. Organophosphates affect the nervous system and are known to cause numbness, tingling, convulsions and even death in humans at high enough doses. Recently an increasing number of reports document effects on mental health, including depression. Rob Stewart describes a recent study in China in which almost 10,000 rural people were assessed for exposure to pesticides and asked whether they had had suicidal thoughts in the previous two years. Participants who were exposed to pesticides were more than twice as likely to have had suicidal thoughts (page 6).