Martinique: 'The French state is complicit' — Martinicans react to pesticide poisoning claims

Martinique resident Anicia Berton believes time spent working on Martinique's sprawling banana plantations may have contributed to her grandmother's death from generalised cancer, due to exposure to hazardous pesticides. «She used these products for years without any form of protection. And when she came home, she brought pesticides with her into the house,» she said. Berton, who survived... Еще breast cancer after being diagnosed six years ago, spoke about what many islanders and scientists see as a direct link between the use of the now-outlawed pesticide chlordecone and incidents of ill health among the Martinican population. «When we know that Martinique is first in terms of prostate cancer in the world [Edit: now second behind Guadeloupe], second in Europe for all cancers, this is really bad,» she said. «We are the third most polluted region in France. In Martinique, 92 percent of us are contaminated [with chlordecone]. I don't want to be told that there is no link.» Chlordecone was used to protect plantations on the island from banana weevil between 1972 and 1993 despite being described as potentially carcinogenic by WHO in 1979. The US discontinued its use in 1976 following a health scare, and mainland France banned the substance in 1990; but Paris initially made an exception for its overseas territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique. This exception was reportedly made for economic reasons, due to pressure on the Ministry of Agriculture from the banana farmers' lobby. Ruptly reached out to French authorities to enquire as to why the complete ban on the toxic chemical came only in 1993 since it had already been classified as a possible carcinogenic substance in 1979 by the WHO, but received no response. «When one is aware that a product is toxic and still uses it, this is an assassination, this is murder. The French state is complicit in this assassination because they authorised the use of toxic products,» said Berton. Martinique and Guadeloupe have the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International. The rate of the disease per 100,000 men on Martinique was 158.4 in 2018, compared to 99 in metropolitan France. Meanwhile, a study by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) concluded that exposure to chlordecone is associated to a significantly increased risk of developing prostate cancer. «It's not possible to get an estimate of the number of patients who are victims of chlordecone,» said Dr. Christiane Jos-Pelage, a pediatrician on Martinique. «The priority is to determine the number of farmers who were working in the banana plantations between 1973 and 1993. I don't know, there are hundreds. Many of them have died of prostate cancer, many had premature babies,» she added. French President Emmanuel Macron visited Martinique in late September where he said France would take its share of responsibility for the situation. «The [French] state must claim its share of responsibility for this pollution and advance on the path of reparations,» he said. However, he cautioned that «it would not be responsible to say that there will be individual reparations for everyone.» Macron went on to claim that current scientific evidence «does not allow us to certify the risk of the molecule for human health, but we can presume its link to premature births and the delay in cerebral growth and other pathologies.» Yet, health experts say chlordecone may cause irreversible damage to the human body. «Once the effects are there and deleterious, like with cretinism, then it is irreversible. Hypo-fecundity can be irreversible. Chronic lesions can be irreversible, hence the importance of stopping the poisoning before the damage becomes irreversible

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