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Sunday, June 9, 2013


I felt obligated by comments and feedback from the readers of the Choiseul PowerHouse to do a little research on "Chlordecone" and to put this short article together. It is by no means a scientific treatise; it more "journalistic" - perhaps passionately journalistic - than it is "scientific" because, coming from a small fishing village which also grow bananas (albeit on very small scale), I could help but "pre-emptively" empathise with my multitude of fishermen and "banana" friends who "in another political life" had so aptly profile their social and economic problems to me and the dedicated candidate I worked with. If my hypotheses in this article should prove to be true - and I pray they are not!), then my heart goes out to them, and it is in this context I have penned this article!

Since the early days of the Caribs and Arawaks, Caribbean people have depended on fishing in our waters as a key economic activity which puts bread on the table of fishers and fish vendors. We, as a whole, treasure and savour a spectrum of sea fish species (from tuna, dolphin fish, blue marlin, king fish, flying fish, red snapper to mackerel, pot fish, ballyhoo, jack fish and sardines) as a vital and major source of protein.

The Chlordecone disaster  
But, in view of the reported "chlordecone disaster" in Martiniquan waters, is there a possibility that our days of eating uncontaminated fish are numbered? Are the alarm bells being sounded for St. Lucia? And if so be the case, then what is the fate of the fishing industry here, and is our fish still safe for consumption?

What is Chlordecone? 
Chlordecone (also referred to as Kepone) is as an “endocrine disruptor” and was listed as carcinogenic in 1979. Endocrine disruptors are dangerous chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce severe and adverse "developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife". At the moment, scientists are conducting extensive research to determine if this chemical may also be linked to lowered fertility, an increased incidence of endometriosis and some cancers.

Chlordecone may exist in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides and many everyday products. Research shows that "endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming".

Questions and Hypothesis relating to Chlordecone

If we are facing a potential disaster on the scale of the Martinique chlordecone disaster, then we are in serious trouble; and even it is after the storm, it is still "better late than never" to begin our emergency post-disaster recovery. We need to find answers to a number of questions: (1) Is this dangerous chemical also present in our St. Lucian waters, and have the authorities given any thought to that possibility? (2) Have we developed at least a consciousness of its potential existence and consider the implications for our health and our economy? (3) Do we have the “scientific capabilities” or expertise to advise us appropriately?  (4) Are we aware of the possible magnitude of the problem but have we (over the years) blissfully turned a blind eye to it? (5) Suppose (in the worst case scenario) it turns out that chlordepone does exist in our ecosystem and that it has been here for a long time, then what is the extent of the damage that has been done and how do we mitigate it going forward?

Of course, those questions are largely and boldly hypothetical but their intention is not to spread malice or panic. Given the fact that we are a banana republic and that we consume lots of fish from our Caribbean waters should naturally raise our alert levels and drive us to ask bold questions and even formulate “bold hypotheses” especially in the context of the possibility of a threat of the magnitude of the “chlordecone disaster” which hit neighbouring Martinique.

Have we caught the Chlordecone?
Because Martinique and St. Lucia share a small environmental space, it is not unfair or illogical to assume that we may also be under a similar threat, for when any of these specks of dust sneezes, we all in the neighbourhood community are likely to catch a cold.

Thumbs Up! to the Martiniquan Authorities

The French authorities in Martinique and Guadeloupe must be praised for their proactivity. They have investigated the problem and have alerted their citizens that those pesticides exist in quantities that threaten to contaminate their food chain. The time may be right for us to reflect on our own situation and take appropriate action to mitigate potential consequences.

 Is it a Sad Story for St. Lucia?

The genesis of the Martiniquan chlordecone dilemma reportedly has its roots in the chemicals used on banana crops. If St. Lucia used those same chemicals, then it is not unreasonable to assume that we may also be facing the same dilemma. If this is so, then it will be a very sad story: our soil, coastline and water especially in the banana belts may already have been subjected to widespread contamination and the chemical may well be out there wreaking havoc in the soil and out at sea rendering underground crops and our fish - that have become a profoundly integral part of our diet - unfit for human consumption.

My own view is, in the context of the potential seriousness of the threat, we need to begin a national conversation with a view to raise the alert level; and then to urgently commission immediate scientific investigations.

The Martiniquan "Assessment"
As cited in the previous article, Nicolas Diaz, a biologist working for Guadeloupe regional council posited that, "There is no hope of improvement, the chlordecone (which was used to combat the banana weevil) is trapped in the mud on the estuary and is released every time there's a storm. It will go on for generations." If those remarks are any indicator of the truth and that we are already afflicted on the same scale with Martinique by the chlordecone phenomenon, then our food chain, which is already plagued with so many issues, is under a threat with no historical parallel and we may be too late.

Plagues of Pests?
Already, St. Lucia has been subjected to a plague of pests (the coconut mite, Black Sigatoga, potato weevil, white flies, pink mealy bugs, African snails etc); and just imagine on top of all of those, we have a contaminated ecosystem.
 A little History
It is noteworthy that chlordecone was banned in mainland France 23 years ago, but not in her overseas territories like Martinique and Guadelope. It is also noteworthy that the US stopped producing and using the chemical more than 30 years ago. Chlordecone has an estimated half-life of about 50 years and it is estimated that it persists in the soil for 700 years. The chemical was detected in drinking water on Martinique as far back as 1999; it was also detected in sweet potatoes and cassava, but strangely not in bananas. In fact in 2002, 1.5 tonnes of sweet potatoes imported from Martinique were seized by the DGCCRF in France, due to high levels of chlordecone.

The PowerHouse Plea
The Choiseul PowerHouse calls on the St. Lucian authorities to move quickly to at least initially conduct scientific research to determine the potential existence of chlordepone in our ecosystem and to establish if there are indications that it may exist and then, if it does, to conduct an initial environmental impact assessment on the extent of its impact on our ecosystem.

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