Chlordecone is a chemical manufactured as a white powder used by Caribbean plantation workers in Martinique and Guadaloupe and applied under banana plantation trees as protection against insects.
Cause of prostate cancer
Ambroise Bertin is a banana plantation worker who worked with chlordecone for several years. He contracted prostate cancer, which is more common in his home in Martinique and Guadeloupe compared to any other place in the world.
Few of the workers, if any, have been advised to wear masks and gloves. Many workers now have illnesses such as cancer.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons )
Chlordecone is a chemical manufactured as a white powder used by Caribbean plantation workers in Martinique and Guadeloupe and applied under banana plantation trees as protection against insects.
Scientists point to chlordecone as the culprit. It is an organic pollutant that is persistent and is related to DDT. It has been authorized to be used in the West Indies’ French region even when its harmful effects have already been known.
This chemical is an endocrine disruptor, which affects the hormones and their systems. According to France Rennes University professor and chlordecone leading expert Luc Multigner, epidemiological studies showed the increase in the risk of the chemical in children and pregnant women for adverse brain development and premature births.
Multigner also says that chlordecone is indeed carcinogenic. These effects have been seen in levels that workers in the affected areas of Guadeloupe and Martinique were exposed to.
Multigner and a research team conducted a 2010 study in Guadeloupe where he concluded that chlordecone caused 5 to 10% of prostate cancer cases in the French West Indies. This is about 50 to 100 new cancer cases each year in the 800,000-strong population.
Persistence of the poison
Chlordecone is still in the soil even after decades have passed, and possibly even centuries. Even if two decades have since passed since its usage has been stopped, Martinique’s land is still unsafe for vegetable planting. Fruits from trees are considered safe.
Contamination of coastal waters and rivers is also a concern, preventing fishers from their livelihood.
A total of 92 percent of the Martinican people have the presence of the chemical in their bloodstream.
The evil that men do
The WHO or World Health Organization classified chlordecone as a potential carcinogenic in 1979. However, in 1981, French authorities still authorized its use in the French region’s banana plantations of the West Indies.
Even after being banned in the year 1990, plantation growers still lobbied for its use and were even permitted to use it until 1993.
According to Valy Edmond-Mariette, a historian, chlordecone evokes painful memories for Martinicans. They say it is a new type of slavery.
Martinizue was a slave colony for two centuries, only being liberated in 1848. Sugar was produced from slave labor. In the 1900s, some large banana growers who were direct descendants of the sugar exporters who benefited from the slaves used the chlordecone. They are the white minority called békés.
Decontaminating the land
The government and scientists are looking for ways to remove chlordecone from the land, particularly biodegrading it.
People are hoping that this measure, along with compensation for the banana plantation victims, will clear the chlordecone and the pain from the lands of Martinique and Guadaloupe.
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