What was the Chlordecone scandal that hit the West Indies?

What was the Chlordecone scandal that hit the West Indies?

Chlordecone is a pesticide that was used to preserve banana trees from 1972 to 1993, but the risks associated with this agent had been known since the 1980s

Chlordecone is a pesticide used to control the banana beetle, a beetle native to Southeast Asia. This powerful pesticide was responsible for many cancers at the time. Commissions had made reports about the dangerousness of this product, but while a judicial inquiry opened in 2008, there is strangely no trace of the comments made in the Poisons Commission between 1972 and 1989. In 2019 some of these documents were finally found, but eight years of archives (between 1972 and 1989) remain untraceable. Finally, in January 2023, a final notice was given regarding this investigation.

A known toxic product

Since using this product, we have seen one of the highest rates of cancer in the world in Guadeloupe and Martinique, specifically prostate cancer which has reached record numbers. The problem is that this toxin, which is mainly present in banana plantation workers, has been in the water and soil for several centuries (1st to 7th centuries). It is estimated that 90% of the population has traces of this pesticide in their blood. However, scientists have been warning of the risks of cancer since the 1980s, and the WHO classified it as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1981.

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Lobbyists behind this product?

At that time, the judges recognized a health scandal and even classified chlordecone as a “chemical monster”. However, Harry Durimel, the historical counsel for the civil parties, notes that “The results of Radio France’s investigative unit show that industrialists sat on the commission“. Analysis of the remaining reports showed that pesticide industry union members were present during the scientific debriefings. Could they have steered the debate? This is probably because economic interests were much higher then health or environmental issues.

Despite the authorities’ knowledge of the dangers of this product, which has existed since 1981, chlordecone was still permitted in banana plantations until 1993. In addition, in 2005 samples of contaminated vegetables were destroyed, which were then analyzed for fraud prevention. As well as the drinking water analysis report within the DDASS (Departmental Directorate for Health and Welfare), never found.

A very troubled affair that keeps claiming victims, especially over there in the banana plantations where cancer has been devastating families and residents since the 1980s. This affair is reminiscent of Frédéric Tellier’s film Goliath, s’, inspired by the Monsanto glyphosate case. The film deals with the harmfulness of a certain pesticide and pits a victim (Emmanuelle Bercot as an activist) against an oppressor (Pierre Niney as an agrochemicals lobbyist).

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