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Chlordecone poisoning by the banana industry in the French West Indies, Martinique and Guadeloupe


Description:

The start of the 21st century was marked by the re-discovery of ecosystem pollution by chlordecone or kepone (an organochlorine molecule) used from 1972 to 1993 in the banana plantations against the weevil plague (a type of beetles) in the French West Indies (Martinique and Guadeloupe). Chlordecone used as a pesticide led to contamination that was long-lasting, generalized, and deleterious to public health. 

The pesticide has been recognized and signalled as harmful since the 1960s in the United States. In 1990, it became forbidden in Metropolitan France but kept being used with impunity by the banana planters in Martinique and Guadeloupe until 1993. In 2009, Chlordecone was included in the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants, which bans its production and use worldwide, however, the health damage in humans and nature last until nowadays.  

According to Malcom Ferdinand (2015) around 300 tones of active substance were used between 1972 and 1993 on 12,400 hectares and 6,570 hectares of banana plantations in Martinique and Guadeloupe respectively. This means a total of 20,000 hectares of arable land. Moreover, there is no viable decontamination method found to date and this molecule is likely to remain in soils for many generations damaging present and future generations. According to INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), 200 to 500 years would be needed to reduce pollution.

Many scientific studies have shown the relation between the chemical and the risk of prostate cancer having Martinique and Guadeloupe some of the highest prostate cancer diagnosis rates in the world. Other health affectations are precocious pregnancies, specific impact on children (prenatal exposure through the placenta and post-natal exposure thought breastmilk and other nourishment).  Also, the chemical has led to a “new disease” which local people have referred as  “Kepone syndrome” to describe nervous system disorders of the such as tremors, loss of immediate memory and mood disorders. Other studies have shown scoliosis and nervous system damages in fish related to Kepone exposure. According to a  survey (the Kannari survey), 92% of people tested in Martinique have chlordecone in their body and 19% of children tested exceed the toxic dose, other studies show that 90% of the Guadeloupeans are also contaminated. 

Since people realized their health affectations related to chlordecone, they began to ask for justice and monetary compensation through judicial activism but they have received no answer from authorities.  Many protests and public manifestations and campaigns have been taking place since then in both Martinique and Guadaloupe. 

Description in French (Extrait de Malcom Ferdinand, De l'usage du chlordécone en Martinique et en Guadeloupe: l'égalité en question) 

Le début du xxie siècle fut marqué par l’apparition sur la scène publique de conflits concernant la pollution de ces îles par des pesticides. L’utilisation massive de pesticides et autres produits phytosanitaires au cours de la deuxième moitié du xxe siècle dans l’agriculture, et particulièrement dans les bananeraies, a engendré une importante contamination des terres et des eaux de ces îles avec de graves conséquences sur la santé des populations. Parmi les divers pesticides et molécules, l’utilisation du chloredécone (CLD) demeure vraisemblablement la plus préoccupante. Cette molécule organochlorée se présentait à travers ses formulations commerciales, le Képone® puis Curlone®, sous la forme d’une poudre blanche. Celle-ci était régulièrement épandue à la base des bananiers entre 1972 et 1993 afin de lutter contre le charançon Cosmopolites sordidus, un insecte ravageant les plants de bananiers à leurs bulbes. Aujourd’hui, plus de 25 % des terres agricoles de Martinique et de Guadeloupe sont contaminées par cette molécule classée comme cancérigène probable, pour une durée allant de soixante ans à sept siècles . De par sa forte rémanence et ses effets néfastes sur la santé publique, cette pollution constitue aujourd’hui un enjeu sanitaire public majeur dans ces départements. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Chlordecone poisoning by the banana industry in the French West Indies, Martinique and Guadeloupe
Country:France
State or province:Martinique & Guadeloupe
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Agro-toxics
Specific commodities:Land
Fruits and Vegetables
Chemical products
Pesticides
Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

-Clordecone is an organochlorine compound and a colourless solid. It was used as a pesticide in banana plantation of Martinique and Guadeloupe from 1972 until 1993. As a highly persistent chemical in soil, it has been added to this of the Stockholm Convention of Persistant Organic Pollutants as of 2011.

-Chlordecone was classified as a probable carcinogenic agent (2b) in 1979. It has been proven to increases the chances of prostate cancer.

As a endocrine disruptor, this chemical delays cognitive development of infants.

Project area:20,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:1,000,000
Start of the conflict:1972
Company names or state enterprises: Allied Signal Company from United States of America - producer of kepone
Relevant government actors:Observatoire Régional de la Santé de Guadeloupe (ORSaG); Asso- ciation martiniquaise pour la recherche épidémiologique sur le cancer (AMREC); INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique);Ministère de l’Agriculture; GREPP (Groupe régional d’étude des pollutions par les produits phytosanitaires); Grephy (Groupe régional phytosanitaire);
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:In Guadeloupe: SOS environnement Guadeloupe, Union régionale des consommateurs, Agriculture-santé-société-environnement; Syndicat Union des producteurs agricoles de la Guadeloupe; Comité de défense de l’eau en Guadeloupe.
In Martinique: ASSAUPAMAR ( Association pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Martiniquais); Écologie Urbaine, MODEMAS, Martinique écologie

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Trade unions
Women
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
A Performance Triptych against Soil Poisoning: http://www.seismopolite.com/kepone-a-performance-triptych-against-soil-poisoning

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Deaths
Other Health impactsObesity; specific impacts in men (prostate cancer); specific impacts in women: precocious pregnancies; " Képone syndrome"; specific impact in children (pre and post natal exposure);
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights, Specific impacts on women, Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Other socio-economic impactsSpecific impacts on men and children ; The chemical is cumulative in animal tissues affecting the whole alimentary chain.

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Court decision (undecided)
Migration/displacement
Application of existing regulations
Withdrawal of company/investment
Usefulness of the land: Since 2003, local authorities have restricted cultivation of crops because the soil has been seriously contaminated by kepone.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:According to INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique), 200 to 500 years would be needed to reduce pollution. People in Martinique and Guadeloupe is dying from cancer and other diseases but no compensation has been given by the companies.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 2011.
https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/2001/05/20010522%2012-55%20PM/Ch_XXVII_15p.pdf

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Kepone-induced scoliosis and its histological consequences in fish.Science. 1977 Aug 5;197(4303):585-7.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/69318

Kannari : santé, nutrition et exposition au chlordécone aux Antilles
http://invs.santepubliquefrance.fr/Dossiers-thematiques/Maladies-chroniques-et-traumatismes/Nutrition-et-sante/Enquetes-et-etudes/Kannari-sante-nutrition-et-exposition-au-chlordecone-aux-Antilles

La saga du chlordécone aux Antilles françaises Reconstruction chronologique 1968-20081
https://www.anses.fr/fr/system/files/SHS2010etInracol01Ra.pdf

Malcom Ferdinand "De l’usage du chlordécone en Martinique et en Guadeloupe : l’égalité en question" . 2015 - N° 1-2 - RFAS
https://www.cairn.info/revue-francaise-des-affaires-sociales-2015-1-page-163.htm

RAPPORT D’INFORMATION DÉPOSÉ en application de l’article 145 du Règlement PAR LA COMMISSION DES AFFAIRES ECONOMIQUES, DE L’ENVIRONNEMENT ET DU TERRITOIRE sur l’utilisation du chlordécone et des autres pesticides dans l’agriculture martiniquaise et guadeloupéenne.
http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/12/pdf/rap-info/i2430.pdf

Book "Who's Poisoning America?: Corporate Polluters and Their Victims in the Chemical Age" (1982).Edited by Ralph Nader (Author), Ronald Brownstein (Editor), John Richard (Editor)
https://www.amazon.com/Whos-Poisoning-America-Corporate-polluters/dp/0871562766

Cabidoche Y.-M. et al. (2009), « Long-term Pollution by Chlordecone of Tropical Volcanic Soils in the French West Indies: A Simple Leaching Model Accounts for Current Residue », Environmental Pollution, vol. 157, juin, p. 1697-1705.

Perinatal exposure to chlordecone, thyroid hormone status and neurodevelopment in infants: the Timoun cohort study in Guadeloupe (French West Indies).Environ Res. 2015 Apr;138:271-8. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2015.02.021. Epub 2015 Mar 3.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25747818

Multigner L. et al. (2010), « Chlordecone Exposure and Risk of Prostate Cancer », Journal of Clinical Oncology, published online by American society of clinical oncology, June.
http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/jco.2009.27.2153

Malcom Ferdinand: Presentation of the case

Living in contaminated land: Struggle for an environmental justice in contemporary Martinique and Guadeloupe”, in Castillo, M. (ed.), Heritage and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Leiden, Leiden University Press, 2017, pp. 95-107.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Une marche contre le chlordécone et autres pesticides à Fort de France
http://www.people-bokay.com/une-marche-contre-le-chlordecone-et-autres-pesticides-se-deroule-a-fort-de-france/

LE CHLORDÉCONE EN GUADELOUPE : UNE POLLUTION/CONTAMINATION GLOBALE DE L’ENVIRONNEMENT ET DE LA POPULATION
https://www.ldh-france.org/chlordecone-en-guadeloupe-pollutioncontamination-globale-lenvironnement-population/

Josette Manin interpelle le gouvernement sur "la lente agonie" des Antillais causée par la chlordécone
https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/josette-manin-interpelle-gouvernement-lente-agonie-antillais-causee-chlordecone-552223.html

Chlordécone en Guadeloupe: dix ans après, les associations réclament des comptes à la justice
https://la1ere.francetvinfo.fr/2016/02/17/chlordecone-en-guadeloupe-dix-ans-apres-les-associations-reclament-des-comptes-la-justice-332325.html

Chlordécone : les Antilles empoisonnées pour des générations
https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2018/06/06/chlordecone-les-antilles-empoisonnees-pour-sept-siecles_5310192_3244.html

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

KEPONE. A Performance Triptych against Soil Poisoning
http://www.seismopolite.com/kepone-a-performance-triptych-against-soil-poisoning

Art and performance: KEPONE Experiment
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=34&v=bOeBa6wYKaA

Chlordécone : «Cette contamination est une atteinte au corps des Antillais»
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNMemxTqyj4&t=1152s

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Meta information

Contributor:Grettel Navas (ENVJustice Project) and Malcom Ferdinand (CNRS)
Last update07/03/2019

Images

 

Public Manifestations at Fort de France, Martinique

Source: Benny René Charles

Public Manifestations at Fort de France, Martinique

Source: Benny René Charles

Public Manifestations at Fort de France, Martinique

Source: Benny René Charles

Public Manifestations at Fort de France, Martinique

Source: Benny René Charles