Well, the good news is that Puerto Rico will not be aerial spraying Naled over the island. Yay, right? We can rest easy? Not so fast. I wish. It's not quite that simple. I went back to Sadhu Govardhan and asked him what the implications and about what is being proposed to use in its place.
Sarah Ratliff: Puerto Rico just escaped one of the most dangerous islandwide insecticide applications in its history. The plan to fumigate the entire island with the highly toxic and ecologically devastating insecticide Naled was only proposed by a handful of people with vested interests and it was rightfully opposed by millions of people, including the vast majority of local scientists and activists who realized the danger immediately.
In my last interview, you predicted that the local Governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, would not care to admit his serious mistake and would only consult the people who recommended the nationwide fumigation in the first place: Tom Frieden (CDC/U.S.), Gina McCarthy (EPA / U.S.), Myrna Comas (Secretary of Agriculture / P.R.) and Ana Rius (Secretary of Health / P.R.).
How do you feel now about what just transpired?
Sadhu Govardhan: Although I am glad that the planned environmental crime against the island was prevented, it is still shocking to see those few people who were responsible for planning the act were not held responsible for it. All the people you just mentioned, are still in office, still don’t understand the issue at hand and are still in complete denial of the fact that they were determined to commit a horrendous crime.
As long as we have incompetent and corrupt leaders, these types of attacks against the environment and people are bound to happen again. Unqualified leaders are simply not capable of making intelligent and beneficial decisions.
SR: What happened with the 25,000 pounds of Naled that are still in Puerto Rico?
SG: No one is taking responsibility for having ordered it. The official version is that it was "just sent to a private company in Puerto Rico," and that the shipment was never inspected by anyone when it entered the island. The government claims that it knew nothing about it, which can obviously not be true—and if it is true, just highlights their incompetence. Secondly, the private company that received the shipment refuses to make any public statements.
Even if anyone tried hard, he could hardly come up with such an amount of lies. The case has been sent to court, which may or may not mean that we will ever find out the truth. As of the latest newspaper report, the toxins have been sent back to Florida.
SR: Who is the sender?
SG: The sender is the CDC, who claims that they sent 25,000 pounds "just in case Puerto Rico wants to use them." They also sent BTi (Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis) along, for the same purpose.
SR: The latest statement by the Governor was that they want to keep the BTi.
SG: First, the BTi is in the hands of a private company, so how can the government keep it? The next question is: what does the government really know about BTi? They have already proven that they knew nothing about Naled, or they did, and they didn't care about its dangerous effects.
SR: Aren't there numerous studies about BTi and its global use for decades?
SG: Yes, hundreds of studies have been carried out, but all the critical studies have been dismissed. There are plenty of critical studies about the environmental effects of BTi and they should be researched before using it in Puerto Rico.
SR: What would be some of the concerns by scientists about BTi?
SG: The effects of commercial products of BTi on non-target organisms are becoming an increasing matter of debate and controversy. Most of the tests conducted in well-known studies have not been carried out in the field, but in isolated, artificial environments. Neither the primary nor secondary causes in nature are fully understood yet. Eco-systems are highly complex and it requires long-term studies to understand all the effects of an insecticide. Many so-called pests have extremely important functions in nature that are largely not yet fully understood. Once an eco system breaks down because of human intervention and manipulation, it is often irreparable.
What we do know is that the toxicity of BTi does affect non-target species, such as Leptodactylus latran (a South American frog species) tadpoles. When the tadpoles were exposed to nominal concentrations of BTi, it led to abnormalities. In higher dosages the result was 100% mortality after two days of exposure.
There are also other non-target organisms that are negatively affected by BTi. An interesting study conducted at the University of Vienna, Austria, concluded that the assumption that only target organisms (culicid larvae) are affected, cannot be supported, as varying concentrations and combinations of these proteins change the effect on different insect larvae and other organisms. In short, the ecotoxicological risk of massive use of BTi formulations on amphibian populations is much higher than many of the early studies show.
SR: So, what's the solution to our mosquito problem then?
SG: As I tried to explain before, and I have been trying to explain for a long time already: the problem is not the mosquitoes. Increased mosquito populations are a symptom of the problem, but not the cause of the problem. The real problem is the reckless environmental manipulation and destruction by humans. So called pests that get out of control are the direct result of abuses against nature. All animals have natural predators, and once the natural predators are taken out of the picture, species that we call "pests" get out of control.
It is therefore important to not lose sight of the bigger picture and understand that all living organisms are interconnected in a fascinating web of life. Once we compromise even the smallest particle within an eco system, the ripple effects can destroy the entire eco system.
Even from a biologial control perspective, there are more accurate target controls than BTi. As I mentioned in my last interview, a good example would be pheromone traps.
The main natural predators of mosquitos are bats, dragonflies and birds, specifically waterfowl, swallows and purple martins. There are countless fish species that feast on mosquito larvae. Instead of protecting these species, we are killing them by the hundreds of millions. Naturally, this has led to mosquito explosions. If we had secured the preservation of all these natural predators, we would have never had a mosquito problem in the first place.
SR: What do you think is the best way to deal with these kinds of matters (prevention of pests and diseases) now and in the future?
SG: "Prevention" is the key word here. If we want to prevent outbreaks of anything dangerous, we have to change our way of thinking and living. We have to return to a way of life that is respectful of nature. On one hand, we are producing millions of pounds of toxic trash every single day, on the other hand, we are surprised whenever there are repercussions. Although we have government agencies that talk about health and agriculture, these same departments openly promote denatured, horrible foods and staggering amount of toxic agro-chemicals.
Personally, I think it’s time to detoxify the island: ban all toxic substances that harm people and the environment.
SR: This sounds good and logical but how do you want to implement that?
SG: We know by now that our government has not only failed to do that, it has never shown even the slightest interest to look for healthy, natural solutions. For that reason, I think that our only chance to prevent criminal scandals like the attempted Naled fumigation, is to establish a board of independent, ecologically conscious local experts, who should be charge in making nationwide decisions related to our land and the heath of its people.
As the saying goes, where there's a will, there is always a way. I don't think it is difficult at all to identify all the toxins that we have in the island, and then ban them one by one. I know many free thinking, concerned people in the private sector as well as those teaching at Universities around the island, who are qualified and willing to contribute to a better future for Puerto Rico.
SR: So, you are proposing a panel of non-political experts to deal with all specialized issues that are related to our eco system and health?
SG: Yes. Who else is qualified to make these decisions? The panel has to consist of people who are not bribed by various industries (Big Ag, Big Pharma, to name a couple) and who are not influenced by political propaganda. This would be the best investment we can make for Puerto Rico. If we don't do this, the ship will continue to sink and we will continue to have one Naled scandal after the other.
I know that we have qualified people here, who are also standing out as humans. Look at the people who sacrificed so much time and energy to fight Naled. I mentioned just a few of them in my last interview (http://www.organicfarm.net/Article_Naled_Assault.htm), but there are hundreds that would qualify and deserve to be on such a panel.
SR: How can the establishment of such a panel be put into practice?
SG: We have two options now: we can either all go back to sleep just to find out that we will wake up in yet another nightmare soon, or we can get together and demand that these much required changes be implemented one by one. Naled was just the symptom of a bigger problem. If we don't tackle it now, it will not go away and it will get a lot worse.
If we want a future at all, we have to demand these changes, and we have to set examples in our own lives by staying away from everything toxic—whether it be dangerous foods, herbicides, pesticides, toxic trash, or even toxic qualities like greed, envy, selfishness, arrogance or complete indifference to the sanctity of life.