“When you look at chlorpyrifos as a case study, it becomes crystal clear that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is being ignored by numerous EU member states when it comes to toxic pollution and contamination”, says Mr. Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Waste.
The Special Rapporteur refers to recent revelations by Danwatch and Investigative Reporting Denmark along with seven other media showing how fruits and vegetables sold all over Europe are contaminated by a pesticide called chlorpyrifos.
Chlorpyrifos is known to cause brain damages in children and fetuses, and when States allow this to happen, it is a breach of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, the UN Special Rapporteur says to Danwatch.
The convention mentions among other things the obligation to secure the right to education for every child. And this is relevant because exposure to chlorpyrifos can lower the IQ of children by up to 2,5 %, research shows. Chlorpyrifos is also known to increase the risk of mental disorders as ADHD and autism in children.
“If you reduce a child’s IQ, memory and attention span, it directly affects their right to education and it prevents them for developing their mental abilities to their fullest potential. Therefore the use of chlorpyrifos is a breach of the rights of the child”, Baskut Tuncak says.
EU should apply precautionary principle
The UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Waste highlights the severity of the situation for children exposed to chlorpyrifos through food.
“Scientists in the US have detected levels of chlorpyrifos in food, that are well over 100 times above levels considered safe for young children. Regarding water, there is no safe level of exposure for children. Given the grave risks to the neurodevelopment of future generations, the EU should apply the precautionary principle enshrined it is laws”, Baskut Tuncak says.
All countries except the US have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which means they have declared their commitment to protect the rights of the child through for instance, implementing legislation.
The problem is that EU member states have not implemented the UN Convention on environmental issues, fx impact from pesticides, which they should have, Baskut Tuncak says.
“It is clear to me, that if this convention was being properly implemented on environmental issues, like pesticides, it would have triggered action within all relevant environmental authorities”, the UN Rapporteur says.
Political system in major crisis
The collaborative investigation by Danwatch and international journalists also uncovers, how the EU-system is highly influenced by the largest producer of chlorpyrifos, Corteva Agriscience, formerly known as Dow Chemicals.
According to the EU procedure, the producer is effectively paying for the European approval process for a pesticide despite the fact that independent scientists are critizing corporate sponsored studies presented by Dow/Corteva for being “biased” and “misleading”.
“The integrity of the entire system, that has been constructed for regulating and protecting humans from toxic chemicals, has essentially been eroded over the past few years”, Baskut Tuncak says.
He mentions the debate around another pesticide, glyphosate, produced by Monsanto, which has been linked to cancer but has recently been re-approved for sale in the EU until 2022.
“I don’t know whether or not glyphosate is carcinogenic, but I can tell you that people increasingly do not trust regulators”, he says.
“This has become a serious problem for governments. Unless they increase the transparency around what science is used, and communicate how these decisions are made in a way that satisfies and reassures the public. The public need to be reassured that decisions are being made by trusted and independent authorities, not by the companies themselves. If not, the system we have today will face a major crisis in the near future”.
The UN Special Rapporteur sees the case of chlorpyrifos as “an excellent case” for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to look further into, however he stresses that he is not allowed to discuss communication with EU or member states, until they are made public.
“This certainly is a case that resonates very strongly with me. I have been working to better implement child rights regarding toxic pollution since I took over my position in 2014”, he says.
“It is surprising, that EU bloc hasn’t taken action already considering how much more progressive Europe is on pesticide use compared to the US.
“There is more than two decades of strong evidence from the US saying chlorpyrifos poses a health risk, especially to children. In many cases, this is something the Europeans are usually aware of and here, they didn’t”.