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Illicit banana pesticide is blamed for ‘cancer disaster’ in Caribbean

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The Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique face a health disaster, with one man in two likely to suffer prostate cancer as a result of prolonged use of illegal pesticides on banana plantations, the French parliament was told yesterday.

The water table, land and wildlife in the two French overseas départements will suffer for decades from contamination by chlordecone, a chemical for killing weevils, Dominique Belpomme, a Paris cancer expert, said in a study that was presented to the National Assembly. "This is an extremely serious crisis linked to the massive use of pesticides for a great many years," he said.

Michel Barnier, the Agriculture Minister, said that the situation was "very serious" and promised to "treat the question of chlordecone with the greatest openness". However, other officials played down the report, which was commissioned by Caribbean consumer and environmental associations, as unproven and said that there was no evidence of a health threat from chlordecone use.

The state Institute for Monitoring Health said that ethnic differences probably explained the high incidence of prostate cancer in the islands compared with France. Chlordecone was outlawed in the islands in 1993, but it was used illegally – often sprayed by aeroplanes – up to 2002.

A drop in the birthrate on the islands "stems from other causes than the impact of a health issue on the biology of reproduction," said the institute. Christian Choupin, head of the Martinique and Guadeloupe Banana Producers’ Association, said that the report was unscientific. "One has the impression that people are dying like flies in the French Caribbean, which is far from the reality," he said.

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