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anses

French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Kepone

Chlordecone in the French Caribbean

Assessing exposure and the food risks associated with chlordecone and other pesticide residues

Updated on 09/08/2018

Keywords : Kepone, Chlordecone, Pesticides, Food contaminants, Chemical risks

Assessing the risks associated with chlordecone for the French Caribbean population, from food in particular, has been a focus of the Agency's work for many years: first AFSSA and AFSSET, and then ANSES since 2010. It has led to the definition of toxicity reference values and maximum tolerable contamination limits for foodstuffs. Assessing dietary exposure has also made it possible to formulate consumption recommendations for the exposed populations. ANSES’s activities in this area currently fall within the framework of the "Chlordecone" action plans established in 2008, 2011 and 2014 by the Ministries of Health and the Overseas Territories, and are gradually being extended to dietary risks associated with other pesticides. Chlordecone has long been used in the banana plantations of Martinique and Guadeloupe to combat weevils. This highly persistent and bioaccumulative pesticide has been prohibited since 1993. The plots now identified as polluted were originally used for banana growing and have since been given over to subsistence farming. As a result of its persistence, chlordecone is still present in the soil and can be found in certain plant- and animal-based foodstuffs, as well as in water at certain catchment areas used for the production of drinking water.

Chlordecone has long been used in the banana plantations of Martinique and Guadeloupe to combat weevils. This highly persistent and bioaccumulative pesticide has been prohibited since 1993. The plots now identified as polluted were originally used for banana growing and have since been given over to subsistence farming. As a result of its persistence, chlordecone is still present in the soil and can be found in certain plant- and animal-based foodstuffs, as well as in water at certain catchment areas used for the production of drinking water.

ANSES's work on chlordecone

Since it was founded, the Agency has been involved in assessing the health risks posed by chlordecone for the French Caribbean population. It has therefore defined human toxicity reference values and estimated the dietary exposure of this population. This work is based on the results of surveys and studies of local eating habits and food contamination levels, as well as the available scientific data. The Agency has established maximum tolerable contamination limits for the foodstuffs that contribute most to human exposure and drafted recommendations for home-grown food consumption. These proposals aim to reduce the dietary exposure of the French Caribbean population to chlordecone.

ANSES’s activities in this area currently fall within the framework of the "Chlordecone" action plans established in 2008, 2011 and 2014 by the Ministries of Health and the Overseas Territories.

The Kannari study

This study, set up in 2013 by ANSES, the French Public Health Agency and the regional health observatories with the support of the Martinique and Guadeloupe regional health agencies, characterised the exposure to chlordecone of the general population and various sub-populations of the French Caribbean previously identified as being potentially overexposed. The aim was to update the available knowledge by capitalising on previous work.
This study identified the supply channels, production areas and populations most vulnerable to the health risks.
An analysis of the link between the food procurement method and exposure showed that informal supply channels (home production, gifts, purchases from roadside stalls) resulted in greater exposure than that observed with food obtained from regulated channels (supermarkets and hypermarkets, markets, grocery stores). The following situations in particular could lead to overexposure compared to the rest of the population:

  • consumption of home-grown produce such as eggs and poultry, produced in a contaminated area, because of their high levels of contamination,
  • consumption more than four times a week of seafood fished or gathered by the consumers or acquired from informal channels,
  • consumption of freshwater products fished or gathered by the consumers or received as gifts,
  • consumption more than twice per week of roots and tubers produced in a contaminated area, which was found to be linked with the consumption of home-produced eggs and poultry.

It thus appears that the consumption of foodstuffs produced in contaminated zones can lead to overexposure in populations that do not follow the current consumption recommendations, namely to limit the consumption of fishery products to four times per week and not to consume freshwater fishery products.

The Agency also recommends extending these current consumption recommendations to cover other produce acquired via informal uncontrolled channels, such as eggs.

Scope extended to include other pesticide residues

The Agency is also assessing the dietary exposure of the French Caribbean population to residues of pesticides other than chlordecone. Exposure of the general French population to pesticide residues is traditionally assessed on the basis of consumption and contamination data representative of metropolitan France. However, due to their characteristic dietary habits (their diet includes a large proportion of tropical fruits and vegetables, and fishery products) as well as the particular pests that affect tropical agriculture, the French Caribbean population may be exposed to specific risks associated with pesticide residues in their food.

The Agency thus conducted the Sapotille study to estimate the exposure of the French Caribbean population to pesticide residues and compare it with the acceptable daily intakes (ADI). The study excluded chlordecone, which had already been examined in a number of targeted studies. In general, apart from chlordecone, the results of this study do not show any notable differences in the observed levels of pesticide residues in foods or in consumer exposure between the French Caribbean and metropolitan France. This study is an initial ‘snapshot’ of the exposure of the French Caribbean population to pesticide residues. However, these initial results should be rounded out through the acquisition of further updated consumption and contamination data.

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