Trouble Again

Chlordimeform, a dangerous pesticide which was pulled off the market in the mid-1970s after it was found to be a potential human carcinogen, is once again on the market in the Third World, courtesy of Ciba Geigy of Switzerland and Schering AG of Germany.

The pesticide's hazardous nature was discovered in experiments carried out by Ciba-Geigy in 1976-78, 10 years after it was introduced for commercial use. The studies showed that chlordimeform produced a rare malignant tumor in blood vessels of mice fed with large amounts of the pesticide. Although Ciba- Geigy and Schering quit producing the pesticide for two years, they continued to carry out highly unethical tests of their "promising insecticide."

In 1976 after withdrawing the pesticide from the market, Ciba Geigy sprayed Galecron on six Egyptian volunteers between the ages of 10 and 18, all of whom wore no protective clothing for the experiment. These youngsters later suffered diarrhea, dizziness, head and stomachaches, and other symptoms of chlordimeform poisoning. Company publicity in Europe warns parents to keep their children away from Galecron.

The pesticide was first registered for use against fruit and vegetable pests. In 1972, the pesticide was also registered for use against cotton and tobacco pests. After briefly being pulled off the market, it was reintroduced in 1978 for use in cotton crops only.

Today, Ciba-Geigy, along with Schering AG, remain two of the biggest manufacturers of this pesticide, marketing chlordimeform under the brand names of Galecron and Fundal, respectively. About half the annual production of chlordimeform has been exported to Latin American countries.

Ciba-Geigy has long been concerned about the health effects of its pesticide on its own workers. The company spent some $4.5 million improving safeguards at its factory to prevent its Swiss employees from coming into contact with the chemical. Yet Ciba- Geigy confidential reports show that levels of the chemical in field workers from Latin America and Egypt regularly exceed the maximum permitted for the company's own employees. The field workers suffer dizziness, headaches and diarrhea, the reports said.

Other symptoms of chlordimeform poisoning include vomiting, elevation of blood pressure, insomnia, aggravation of asthma, anorexia (lack or loss of appetite for food), dysuria (painful or difficult urination), nocturia (excessive urination at night), haemorrhagic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) and hematuria (discharge of blood in the urine). Acute poisoning can result in cyanosis (blueness of skin), respiratory depression, methemoglobinemia (insufficient oxygenation of blood), coma and even death.

In June 1985, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International initiated a campaign to regulate and restrict the use of a dozen pesticides it considered risky to human health and the environment. Chlordimeform was one of the "dirty dozen." The pesticide has been banned in Australia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, Thailand and Yugoslavia. It is severely restricted in the United States, Colombia, East Germany and Guatemala.

- Third World Network

The Rap on Ciba-Geigy

Ciba-Geigy's record on consumer health and safety issues is one of the worst in the industry. It has amassed a long list of violations of legal and ethical standards including the following:

In the 1960s, Ciba-Geigy continued to market clioquinol for diarrhea in Japan, although the drug was known to cause SMON (subacute myelo optic neuropathy), a condition involving continuous pain, paralysis, blindness, and in extreme cases, death. In Japan, 30,000 people were affected and 1,000 died before the drug was banned there.

In India in 1975, Hindustan Ciba-Geigy Ltd. sprayed Nuvacron (common name: monocrotophos), a World Health Organization class IB pesticide described as "highly hazardous," on more than 40 Indian volunteers between the ages of 13 and 57. Over a period of four days, Ciba-Geigy used a plane loaded with the pesticide solution to spray the group.

Despite confidential warnings from its own researchers, Ciba- Geigy continued to market two dangerous drugs, phenylbutazone and oxyphenbutazone, which are known to cause life-threatening blood disorders. In fact, in an internal document leaked in 1983, Ciba-Geigy admitted that the drug had already caused some 700 deaths. At the time only 72 deaths had been reported. It was only in April 1985, after worldwide protest against the two drugs, that the company withdrew oxyphenbutazone and severely restricted the use of phenylbutazone.

In January 1986, Ciba-Geigy Ltd. in Japan was ordered to stop operations for 20 days, after the company was found to have submitted false data to obtain permission to market 46 of its products.

And most recently, Ciba-Geigy spilled datrazine, a hazardous weedkiller, in the River Rhine, and waited 12 days to report the incident.

-TWN and Monitor Staff

Wasting Saba

A U.S. corporation is lobbying to build the world's longest barrier reef on the banks of a tiny island in the Dutch West Indies. The reef, called the Island of Caribbea, would then be turned into a mammoth landfill and incinerator for the world's garbage.

The Dutch West Indies island of Saba, targeted for dumping by Waste Central, Inc., is a five square-mile volcanic island that rises 3,000 feet above the sea. Its lush green landscape is perched atop forbidding cliffs that have kept the 1,000 inhabitants almost entirely secluded. Four small villages dot the steep slopes, and until recently, travel between the villages was accomplished solely by climbing the stone steps carved into the volcano.

In the early 1980s scuba divers discovered that the clear waters surrounding Saba contained a cornucopia of coral reefs, fish and underwater plants. They convinced the Dutch government to turn Saba into a protected ecosystem. The Dutch government decided to create a marine park out of Saba's underwater reefs and shoals. A year after beginning work, Tom Van't Hof, a marine biologist with the government, was told that Waste Central, Inc., a U.S. company had proposed its reef project. Entitled "Development on Saba Bank," the project is a request by the company to lease the nearby Saba Bank for use as an extensive landfill and incinerator capable of burning hundreds of tons of waste per day.

"The consequences, although vague, could be quite harmful," says Van't Hof, "and could jeopardize a very important fishing ground in the region." Van't Hof says despite opposition from local residents the Dutch government may be lured into accepting the project because of the financial incentives offered by Waste Central.

Waste Central operates out of the offices of the First Financial Funding Corp., a Philadelphia company which has attempted, in the past, to act as a lender to a landfill purchaser. For the perpetual, irrevocable and unrestrained right to dump waste onto the Saba Bank, Waste Central has offered to pay one dollar per ton to be split evenly between the Netherlands Antilles and Saba. Municipalities in the northeast United States have paid as much as $80 to $126 per ton for the removal of garbage. Hazardous waste, which is far more costly to remove, could apparently be dumped on Caribbea as well.

"Perhaps most distressing of all," says Walter Hang, Toxics Director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, "the proposal apparently puts the burden on Saba to resolve any environmental problems that may arise." And a massive clean-up effort in case of leakage into the surrounding waters could be financially impossible for Saba to undertake, says Hang.

Waste Central's proposal contains a mere 11 sentences addressed to the potential environmental impact of the project. The magnitude of the project is buried in a footnote which seeks to detail the benefits of the operation. "In excess of seventy (70) nautical miles of 'barrier reef' will be created. The implications of this huge addition, no doubt the longest reef construction ever, will be most positive to fisheries on Saba Bank." No reasons are given for the positive assessment.

The proposal gives Waste Central the responsibility to conduct ongoing environmental studies prior to construction of the project, as well as to monitor the project once it gets underway.

The waste reef envisioned by Waste Central's proposal could be environmentally devastating for Saba and other nearby countries whose shores are washed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea, and may violate international treaties on the environment. The Law of the Sea Convention, signed by the Netherlands on December 10, 1982, was drafted primarily as a means to protect and preserve the marine environment. It obligates signatories to prevent marine pollution from any land or sea-based sources (such as "artificial islands, installations and structures") which may spread beyond those areas where they exercise their sovereign rights.

The London Dumping Convention and the Caribbean Regional Seas Convention (the "Cartagena Convention"), both ratified by the Netherlands, also contain provisions detailing the signatories' responsibility to safeguard the marine environment. "Such dredging and dumping on a coral reef will, at least in spirit, violate the conventions," says Sally Lentz, staff attorney for the Oceanic Society.

Anxious to avoid any negative publicity, Dewey Yesner, the agent for Waste Central, Inc., refused to provide any details about the project.

-Randall Weiner

Randall Weiner, General Counsel to the New York Public Interest Research Group, litigated the issues surrounding the Mobro 4000 "garbage barge" during the summer of 1987.