Monday, November 23, 2009

Syngenta’s hide-n-seek with Monocrotophos

By Sebastian Rodrigues

Syngenta – a Swiss corporate based in Goa’s Tiswadi taluka’s Corlim Panchayat jurisdictions is playing the game of hide-n-seek with notorious pesticide – Monocrotophos. The corporate that took over tribal land soon after Indian army action ‘operation Vijay’ ‘Liberated’ Goa on December 19, 1961.

Note on History

Nearly 200 hectares of land that is occupied by this global leader in pesticides production has been historically the land of adivasi cultivation lands. Adivasi communities in this locality went through trauma of Portuguese colonial rule when colonial power initiated conversion campaigns. The whole communities vacated the land and went into hiding. At this time when the adivasi people here refused to get converted their land was taken over by the Portuguese colonial State and handed over to the catholic institution loyal to Vatican as well as the Portuguese crown and function in Old Goa known as ‘Santa Monica’. This is a name, ironically is of the Syngenta’s pesticides plant at Corlim occupying the fertile agricultural lands of Mangado and Dulapi villages. This land were transferred by the Liberated State of Goa, in 1969 to the Swiss multinational then known as Ciba of India limited. Ciba has corporate history of over two and half centuries. The years 1970 up to 1972 ensued number of actions against take over of this land. This is earliest known protest movement in the Liberated Goa. Number of people from Dhulapi and Mangado were arrested and imprisoned. Goa Police were used effectively in defense of the company. The decade of 1970s thus witnessed rise and fall of the adivasi movement in Goa against the multinational corporate – Ciba of India that got changed its name after the corporate merger into Ciba-Geigy.

The plant had undisturbed existence throughout 1980s though local villagers whose land was taken over petitioned the company to provide them jobs in the plant. This however was rejected and none of the adivasi families whose land was taken to set up the Multinational plant were treated with dignity by heeding to their demands of jobs.

The decade of 1990s also did not change this existence. The company did face the problems due to strong unions inside the plant. Agitating workmen outside the Ciba-Geigy plant were violently attacked allegedly by the henchmen of prominent politician and former Goa Chief minister Churchil Alemao after being ‘asked’ to do so by the management of the company. This allegation however could never be probed and has remained as unsolved mystery due to lack of interest shown by both – journalists of that time and historians of this time. The union then mellowed down and labor disputes at the company ceased being issue of public debate and attention in local media in Goa.

In the meantime the corporate against changed its name to ‘Novartis’ after effecting mergers. After few years with additional mergers it again changed its name to its current name ‘Syngenta’.

Note on Geography

Syngenta is located on the banks of Cumbarjua canal that connects Goa’s two biggest rivers to each other – Mandovi and Zuari. The canal has tidal effects and is used for release of liquid effluent discharges after treatment at the plant. This is a major advantage that Syngenta has been harvesting over its location. Though Environmental studies conducted by Syngenta declares everything is alright with the health of Cumbharjua Canal, villagers in surrounding areas has different point of view to share. They claim that number of fish species and benthic organisms prevalent till few decades ago had disappeared and there are number of instances of dead fish being sited on the shores Cumbharjua Canal.

Though State authorities has put up number of conditions for regular monitoring of air pollution Goa government does not have air testing facilities with its Pollution Control Board. The only approved air testing laboratory in Goa is with Syngenta. How can Syngenta be expected to disclose authentic results on air pollution even if it occurs when they are their own masters? Moreover it is only the air samples from incinerators that Syngenta has are tested for air quality. What about leakages at the pipe joint that actually a major source of air pollution? These are unanswered questions so far.

Air sampling done through bucket brigade of Community Environment Monitoring based in Chennai found very alarming results. On 7th August 2008 air samples were collected from very close vicinity of Syngenta when smell was experienced. It was packed and sent to Columbia Analytical Services, Inc., laboratory approved by United States Environment Protection Agency (USEPA). Its tests proved prevalence of large number of chemicals that are hazardous to human health. Hydrogen Sulphide was found 17 times above safe limits. It targets eyes, respiratory system, and central nervous system. Carbon Disulphide was found 15 times above safe limits. It targets central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, cardiovascular system, eyes, kidneys, liver, skin, and reproductive system. Carbonyl Sulphide was found 33.75 times above safe limits. Safe limits are standards approved by USEPA.

It is located in the thickly populated areas and is one of the two classified hazardous chemical plants in Goa. Throughout 1990s and even up to early 2008 Syngenta used to advertise in the newspapers its notices for the mock drills in case of emergency arising out of escape of dangerous gases from its plant. However the in practice for neighbors this meant only the sound of sirens going abuzz for the few minutes. No attempts were ever made to communicate the worst case scenarios in case of disasters to the locals.

It disposed of its solid hazardous waste in the village of Darbandora in Sanguem taluka till 2008 when the village Panchayat objected and Syngenta stooped dumping. It then created its own landfill site within the campus of the factory ‘temporarily’ until then corporate gets permissions from authorities in Karnataka to dump this hazardous waste inside its territory. This involves transportation of hazardous waste chemicals though the use of highway that connects Syngenta location.

It sources its large quantity of water from Public Works department (PWD) almost 3000 cubic meters every day.

According to the Environment Clearnce granted to Syngenta in October 2008, pesticides manufactured at the plant includes Thiomethoxam (TMX-I), Thiomethoxam (TMX-II), Pretilachlor, Monocrotophos, Cuman/Ziram, Profenofos, Amino Ethyl Phenol (Intermediate), Mandipropamid Technical, and Ortho – Substituted Phenyl Amide Tech (OPA).

Hide-n-seek with Monocrotophos

Syngenta’s plant in Goa has been on the target of local communities and environmentally concerned citizens since February 29, 2008 when the Public hearing was conducted for the expansion of pesticides production capacity at the Syngenta site in Goa. Number of objections were raised and recorded at the proceedings of this public hearing conducted by Goa Pollution Control Board. Out of entire all the points raised one particularly has hit Syngenta hard and it has buckled down, still searching for cover.

According to EXTOXNET – Extension Toxicology Network – based in Oregon State University, Pesticide Information Profile of Monocrotophos is revealing. Syngenta’s predecessor – Ciba: its agricultural division was a basic manufacturer of this infamous pesticide. It carried various trade names such as Trade names for products containing monocrotophos include Azodrin, Bilobran, Crisodrin, Monocil 40, Monocron, Nuvacron, Pillardrin, and Plantdrin.

The use of monocrotophos on potatoes and tomatoes was withdrawn in 1985 in USA and all applications of monocrotophos were discontinued in the United States in 1988. Before its withdrawal, monocrotophos was a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP).

Monocrotophos is an organophosphorus insecticide and acaricide which works systemically and on contact tt is extremely toxic to birds and is used as a bird poison. It is also very poisonous to mammals. It is used to control a variety of sucking, chewing and boring insects and spider mites on cotton, sugarcane, peanuts, ornamentals, and tobacco. The USEPA classifies monocrotophos as a class I toxicity - highly toxic. Products containing monocrotophos bear the Signal Word "Danger". Monocrotophos is available in other countries as a soluble concentrate or an ultra-low volume spray.

Acute Toxicity: Monocrotophos is a direct acting cholinesterase inhibitor capable of penetration through the skin. The dose which kills half of the test animals, the LD50, is 17-18 mg/kg for male rats and 20 mg/kg for female rats. The LD50 for dermal exposure is 126 mg/kg for male rats, 112 mg/kg for female rats, and 354 mg/kg for rabbits. The concentration in air at which half of the test animals die, the LC50, is 0.8 mg/l air. Monocrotophos is not irritating to skin and eyes. Symptoms of monocrotophos poisoning are similar to those of other organophosphate compounds. Its cholinesterase inhibiting activity causes nervous system effects. Cases of human poisoning are characterized by muscular weakness, blurred vision, profuse perspiration, confusion, vomiting, pain, and small pupils. There is a risk of death due to respiratory failure.

Reproductive Effects: Rats who received doses of 2 mg/kg/day monocrotophos produced fetuses with lower than average length and weight.

Mutagenic Effects: Studies show that monocrotophos may be weakly mutagenic.

Organ Toxicity: Monocrotophos affects the central nervous system by inhibiting cholinesterase, an enzyme essential for normal nerve impulse transmission.

Fate in Humans and Animals: Monocrotophos is metabolized and excreted rapidly and does not appear to accumulate within the body. In mammals, 60-65% is excreted within 24 hours, predominantly in the urine.

Effects on Birds: Monocrotophos is highly toxic to birds. The LD50 is 0.76 mg/kg for California quail, 0.94 mg/kg for bobwhite quail, 1.58 mg/kg for Canada goose, 3.3 mg/kg for European starling and 4.76 mg/kg for mallard ducks.

Effects on Aquatic Organisms: Monocrotophos is moderately toxic to fish. The LC50 (48hrs) is 7 mg/l for rainbow trout and 23 mg/l for bluegill sunfish. Monocrotophos causes reproductive damage to crustaceans exposed for long periods of time.

Effects on Other Animals (Non-target species): Monocrotophos is highly toxic to bees. It may also kill non-target birds which eat insects poisoned with monocrotophos.

Breakdown of Chemical in Soil and Groundwater: Monocrotophos has a low environmental persistence. It does not accumulate in soil because it is biodegradable. Its half-life is less than 7 days in soil exposed to natural sunlight.

Breakdown of Chemical in Vegetation: Monocrotophos has a half-life of 1.3 to 3.4 days on plant foliage. It causes slight injury to some varieties of apple, pear, cherry, peach and sorghum.

It is interesting to note that in spite of all the available Monocrotophos pesticide profile Government of India did not ban its production in the Country so far. On the other hand though Syngenta has not violated any of the Indian laws while engaging in production of Monocrotophos in Goa it is morally questioned inn following duplicity in practices in Monocrophos. The media communications released from Syngenta’s last predecessor Norartis in Basel in February 1998 there was change in priorities in production of certain pesticides. Amongst pesticides that were decided to be replaced on country-by-country basis included dichlorvos, disulfoton, formothion, isazofos, monocrotophos and phosphamidon. So monocrotophos was clearly listed to be replaced then. Phosphamidon is another pesticides that was listed to be replaced but continued to be produced in Goa with Syngenta indulging in hide-n-seek here too. The decision to commence production of Profenos in Goa was also taken during this time.

Syngenta’s Rapid Environment Impact Assessment (REIA) submitted for public circulation through Goa State Pollution Control Board in Early 2008 when it was preparing for Public Hearing for expansion mentions Monocrotophos not less than 14 times. Here is the list:

1. On Chapter II page 18 it mentions total capacity of Monocrotophos production as 1500 TPA. It also states “Monocrotophos is manufactured by Chlorinating MMA (Monomethyl aceto acetamide) in the presence of Urea. The chlorinated mixture is neutralized with sodium hydroxide (Caustic Soda). The chlorinated slurry is then dissolved in DCE (Di chloro ethane). This material is then reacted with TMP (Tri methyl phosphate) to get Monocrotophos.”
2. On Page 19 Figure 2.4 there is given process flow diagram of Monocrotophos.
3. Monocrotophos is listed in the table 2.2 dealing with Evaluation of ETP performance of summer 2005. This is an evidence of the production of Monocrotophos in 2005.
4. Monocrotophos along with Phosphomidon is listed in table 3.3 dealing with analysis of soil sample near hazardous waste storage site within the manufacturing Plant.
5. Again both Monocrotophos as well as Phosphomidon are listed in table 3.6 dealing with Analysis of soil sample near HW Disposal site.
6. Monocrotophos and Phosphomidon are listed in the table 3.15 dealing with ground water quality monitoring.
7. Monocrotophos and Phosphomidon are again listed in table 3.17 dealing with surface water quality monitoring.
8. Monocrotophos as well as Phosphomidon are included in Table 3.18 dealing with Sediment Samples.
9. In project executive summery there is an entry 4.0 as Monocrotophos production being 1500 Tonnes Per Annum (TPA) production under the table 1.0 dealing with Products manufactured at Santa Monica Works, Corlim. The other entries includes Profenos with 1500 TPA, Thiamethoxam with 2800 TPA, Pretilachlor 1400 TPA, Cuman/Ziram 1400 TPA, Liquid and Powder Formulation as 8700 TPA. So clearly Monocrotophos is listed as being one of the products manufactured.
10. In the annexures Table 2.2 with the heading “Evaluation of ETP Performance” includes Monocrotophos.
11. In annexures table 3.3 with heading “analysis of soil sample near Hazardous Waste storage site within the manufacturing plant”, Monocorphos as well Phosphomidon finds entries.
12. In annexures table 3.4 with heading “analysis of soil sample near H W disposal site”, both Monocrotophos as well as Phosphomedon is included.
13. In annexures table 3.15 with heading “Ground water quality monitoring”, Monocrotophos as well as Phosphomedon are listed.
14. In annexures table 3.15 with heading “Surface water quality monitoring” Monocrotophos as well as Phosphomidon are listed.

Besides records in REIA prepared by Syngenta proving ongoing production of Monocrotophos there are additional documents to point this out further. Consent to establish provided to Syngenta under Air Act and Water Act by Goa State Pollution Control Board on 2nd May 2007 clearly states “Reduction of Monocrotophos from 2800 TPA to 1500 TPA. This letter also mentions increase in production of Thiamethoxam from 1400 TPA to 2500 TPA. So clearly intention of Syngenta has only to reduce the production of monocrotophos and not to stop production as per these records in 2007.

Further, Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) issued Environment Clearance to produce Monocrotophos amongst other pesticides as mentioned earlier as late as October 30, 2008.

The first denial

With all this evidence of actual on ground production of Monocrotophos at its Santa Monica plant, Corlim, Goa, Syngenta has been on the public denial mode for the reasons best known to the company. The first denial came towards fag end of Public Hearing on 29th February 2008 from Rajiv Aunde, a representative of M/s Tera. “The company has stopped production of Monocrotophos.” He did not mention as to from when the Monocrotophos production is stopped. Even if it was stopped from that very day of 29th February 2008 then how come MoEF Environmental Clearance of 30th October 2008 – full eight months later mentions Monocrotophos? Surely either Syngenta has been fooling public in Goa or MoEF is constituted of bunch of fools!

This was a response to the tremendous opposition publicly voiced towards monocrotophos production site at Syngenta. The public hearing that started at 11.00 am ended at 7.30 pm. Amongst those who citied Monocrotophos as objectionable pesticide manufactured at Syngenta includes Durgadas Gaonkar, president of Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Federation (GAKUVED) and resident of village adjacent to Syngenta towards the East – Dhulapi that has lost its land to the corporate, and Deepak Karmalkar, a resident of Old Goa that is within the risk zone of Syngenta. One speaker Pandurang Kukalkar, Secretary of Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Federation (GAKUVED) pointed out that the famous Syngenta lake is artificial lake imposed on the paddy fields of the local people from Dhulapi and Mangado.

The second denial

The second denial on Monocrotophos came on 7th December 2008 in newspaper in Goa – Herald – with a heading “Syngenta refutes charges of manufacturing banned chemicals”. The crucial details from this news report as follows: “Syngenta, the chemical plant based at Corlim, Ilhas, which has been accused of manufacturing banned chemicals claimed that it had stopped the manufacture of Monocrotophos, an organophosphate insecticide, banished in the US and many other countries.

A clarification issued by the Company’s Vice President – Manufacturing Operations Vishram Singbal states that Syngenta does not produce any chemicals banned in the US or European countries and it had stopped manufacturing monocrotophos in 2001.”
Syngenta vice president made this statement two months after getting Environmental Clearance from MoEF on 30th October 2008 to keep its existing production capacity of 1500 TPA as it is. Mr. Singbal’s denials can come only from a wise fool who believes that he is speaking to the audience in the classroom hall consisting standard V school boys with mental capacity equivalent to morons!

The Third denial

In the order of the National Environment Appellate Authority in appeal number 4/2009 dated 12th August 2009 – Durga Das Ganu Gaonkar & others Vs Ministry of Environment and Forests and Others – there are some interesting material and the third denial on monocrotophos production. The order states “the procedure of chemicals like phosphomidon and monocrotophos have been stopped and they are no longer in production line….As regards the chemical named TMP (Trimethyle Phosphite) which causes the bad odour, it has been clarified that “TMP” was used/required in manufacture of Monocrotophos. As the production of Monocrotophos has been discontinued in the plant from 1997 the use of TMP has also been discontinued at the plant.”

Over here Syngenta submitted that Monocrotophos production was stooped from 1997. In Herald report it submitted that it stopped from 2001. There is no consistency on since when it actually stopped production. While decision to substitute monocrotophos was taken in the company’s Basel office on country by country basis in 1998.


After detail investigations it is found that Syngenta is only denying the production of monocrotophos in order to shield itself accusations of ‘industrial racism’ directed against India and more directly people of Goa, while the actual production of Monocrotophos at Santa Monica Plant, Corlim goes on as per the Syngenta’s business plans.


1. Dr. Bikram Dasgupta from whom I learned so much.
2. Shweta Narayan who inspired me to take interest in this area to the extend unimaginable few years ago.
3. Nityanand Jayaraman for making crucial data available.
4. Durgadas Gaonkar for his support.

People of Dhulapi and Mangado villages in Corlim - whose land Syngenta has confiscated with State power over 40 years ago – who has raised the banner of protest in defense of their land.

1 comment:

Dusk said...

Thanks for writing this paper and alerting us to the wrong-doing of Syngenta. I am part of a community that boycotts any products made by companies that are not ethical and that engage in activities that oppresses communities. I will circulate this article.