Dr. Karl Rockne PhD, PE in Civil and Materials Engineering presented his research in the French West Indies(FWI) today in UH at the third Lunch & Learn series. He spent a year on the islands of Martinique and Guadeloup in the French West Indies studying the affects of Chlordecone(also called Kepone) on the land and inhabitants.
Dr. Rockne explained that these tropical islands are volcanic and mountainous, receiving abundant precipitation. The high temperatures and rain is perfect for growing bananas, but also the perfect climate for pests. In the 1960's the FWI used organic chemical pesticides but switched over to Kepone in the 70's.The US banned Kepone in 1975; it was not until 1993 that the chemical was banned in the FWI. However, in 2002, there were still traces of it's use.
The problem with Chlordecone (CLD) is that it is highly hydrophobic- absorbing into soil and sediment instead of water. Plus, it is bio-magnified in higher tropical levels, going from 0.0000003ppm in water to 25ppm in large birds. When put into the environment, it is of course a toxin; further, chlorine is environmentally stable so it will not break down. For the short term, it is very cost-effective because it does not have to be applied multiple time. Long term costs are the entire opposite and although aware of this, they do not stop using it.
Dr. Rockne mentioned a case study of Life Science Products (Allied Chemicals) and the affects of their production of Kepone in Hopewell until the 1970's. The acute exposure to workers caused by the massive amounts of Kepone dust indoors and outdoors was termed "Kepone Sickness." The workers would shovel large amounts into the James River ultimately destroying the entire fishery located there. When paying the $13 billion fine, they received tax benefits for pouring $8 billion into research. They found soil was contaminated 1 km area around the site and 130km of the James River. In the end they took the "do nothing" approach to clean up the mess because it would have been too expensive, costing over $130 billion.
In the FWI, the CLD was found mainly where the banana plantations were located, by the steep slopes, and by the bay areas. Shrimp fisheries in FWI were forced to close. What was one of their largest industries they now have to import from Asia. As for human health, the state of prostate cancer has significantly increased. The government tried to deny the linkage but the article "Karuprostate" finds undeniable links between the chemical and cancer.
Solutions for this problem are very slim and not at all easy. Some solutions include: planting crops that will sequester the chemical, "washing" the soil, chemical oxidation, and chemical reduction.The only thing that the people of the FWI's can do now is clean all of their drinking water and manage the consumption of food.
When completing a life cycle analysis on the usage of CLD, they found that all of the costs associated with it's after effects are much greater than the savings it produced in the short run.This just shows how our greed and selfishness once again came back to give us perpetuating problems that could have been easily avoided.