FOCUS – Guadeloupe and Martinique remain marked by the health scandal caused by this pesticide. Residents are now calling for free screening.

In recent days, the protest in Guadeloupe against the health pass has turned into a riot, to such an extent that the initial opposition to the vaccine passes to be no more than a pretext. The reasons for anger invoked by the leaders of the movement or the leaders of the local political parties engaged in this showdown with Paris are numerous, and indeed go far beyond the government’s health policy: access to drinking water and water. education, social inequalities, representation of the Antilleans among the local elites …

Among the grievances addressed by the inhabitants, one of them returns almost systematically, repeated in a loop by the elected officials of these Caribbean islands: the chlordecone scandal. The 17 unions who called the strike from Monday are thus demanding, among other demands, the full support of tests for chlordeconemia, a disease linked to this pesticide widely used in banana fields between 1972 and 1993, and suspected to be responsible for many diseases such as prostate cancer.

Today this scandal is often cited to explain the particular distrust shown by some West Indians towards vaccines and therefore more generally of the health past. Above all, it has come to complicate a little more an already difficult dialogue with the metropolis. To understand everything about this thorn in the side of the French government in its relations with the overseas territories, take a look at the few key dates in this half-century old history.

  • 1972: marketing authorization

Chlordecone was first synthesized in 1951 by two American chemists, who filed for a patent the following year. In the United States, this very effective pesticide against the banana weevil and other virulent insects in West Indian banana plantations was marketed in 1958, marketed by Allied Chemical under the name Kepone.

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In France, it was Jacques Chirac, then Minister of Agriculture, who signed the provisional Marketing Authorization (AMM) for this product on September 18, 1972. At that time, studies carried out on populations of mice in the 1960s were already known and raised concerns that chlordecone could be a probable endocrine disruptor, reprotoxic, and a carcinogenic product.

  • 1977: product ban in the United States

In 1975 at the Hopewell plant in the United States (Virginia), one of the three that produced chlordecone, dozens of workers as well as residents were poisoned because of insufficient precautionary measures. Neurological disorders are diagnosed as a consequence of the incident. Two years later and following this first scandal, the country definitively banned chlordecone.

  • 1990: withdrawal of the marketing authorization in France

The proliferation of parasites following two hurricanes in the West Indies has increased the use of chlordecone, which has only ever been authorized on a provisional basis in France. 1is February 1990, the MA is withdrawn, while for ten years anger has not weakened towards the government, targeted by several damning inquiries published in the press. The deputy of Martinique, Guy Lordinot, asks the government to extend the MA for five more years: his request is refused by the Minister of Agriculture Henri Nallet, who recalls, however, that the suspension of an MA already leaves producers bananas within two years before permanently banning the product. In March 1992, the new Minister Louis Mermaz extended the use of the product by one year. In February 1993, his successor Jean-Pierre Soisson authorized Martinique producers to sell their stocks, which had been heavily replenished after the decision to suspend the MA three years earlier.

  • 2000: traces are found in drinking water
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In April, the production of bottled water in a Guadeloupe factory was temporarily suspended following the discovery of worrying traces of chlordecone in the spring water. In 2005, a parliamentary report specified that doses a hundred times higher than the norm were detected in groundwater intended to be captured, between 1999 and 2000, by a study by the Department of Health and Social Development.

  • 2006: associations file a complaint

A number of associations in Martinique and Guadeloupe are coming together to file a complaint for “endangering the life of others», Pointing in particular to the latency time between the suspension of the MA and the definitive stopping of the use of chlordecone.

In 2009, the French Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (AFSSET) concluded that there was a lack of scientific knowledge in the studies that enabled the MA for chlordecone, and ignorance, voluntary or not, of the work carried out. in the USA.

  • 2010: sharp rise in prostate cancer cases

Between 2001 and 2005, the National Cancer Institute observed in Martinique a spectacular increase in the annual incidence rate of prostate cancer. A study published in 2010 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology concluded in 2010 that there was a significant increase in the risk of prostate cancer in Guadeloupe residents exposed to large doses of chlordecone. While cancer cases are less frequent in the French West Indies than in mainland France, Professor Pascal Blanchet, head of the urology department of the Pointe-à-Pitre University Hospital, believes that Guadeloupe and Martinique count “twice as many prostate cancers than in other regions of France“And even win”the world record for the number of prostate cancers per capita».

Santé Publique France now estimates that 90% of Martinicans and 95% of Guadeloupeans have been exposed to abnormal doses of chlordecone.

  • 2018: Macron recognizes “the share of responsibility” of State
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«Chlordecone pollution is an environmental scandal from which Martinique and Guadeloupe have suffered for 40 years. (…) It was the fruit of collective blindness», Declared the Head of State during a trip in September to Point-à-Pitre. “We continued to use chlordecone (…), because the state, local elected officials accepted this situation, not to say accompanied it, considering that stopping chlordecone was to threaten part of the farms», He continued. He concluded that he “would not be responsible to say that there is individual redress for all“, But that it is on the other hand”possible to make further progress on the issue of occupational diseases for people particularly exposed to the molecule.»

  • 2019: the parliamentary inquiry focuses on the role of local elected officials

While most of the reports have focused on the responsibility of the State and in particular the Minister of Agriculture, the parliamentarians in charge of a new investigation are focusing this time on the role played by local elected officials and in particular the Member of the Guadeloupe at the time, Guy Lordinot, who denies having been pressured by producers or phytosanitary manufacturers.

Today, the great fight of the inhabitants concerns the expansion of the screening tests offered to the population: to date, only a few hundred West Indians are eligible for these tests free of charge, mainly former agricultural workers, or priority people like pregnant women. Residents are now asking the ARS to drastically expand these free tests to detect the level of chlordecone in the blood.

SEE ALSO – “We are all poisoned”: mobilization in Martinique against the threat of a prescription linked to chlordecone (02/28/2021)


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