Published On: Tue, Feb 5th, 2019

Macron sparks fury over claims highly toxic insecticide chlordecone ‘doesn’t cause cancer'

During a debate with overseas mayors at the Elysée Palace, the French president said: “We shouldn’t say that chlordecone is carcinogenic.

“We’ve established that it isn’t a good product, there are prevalences which have been scientifically recognised, but we cannot go as far as to say that it is carcinogenic, because we’re saying something which isn’t true and feeding fears.”

Chlordecone, also known as Kepone, is a lethal poison used to kill the likes of fire ants and cockroaches.

A known endocrine disrupter, it has been listed as a “possible carcinogen” by the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency since 1979.

The poison is said to have been responsible for a significant increase in the risk of prostate cancer in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, where it was used from 1973 to 1993 to combat banana weevil.

The contamination continued for three years after the insecticide was banned on mainland France because local plantation owners lobbied for an exception, falsely claiming there was no viable alternative.

Joël Beaugendre, the mayor of Capesterre-Belle-Eau, a town in Guadeloupe, said: “As a small town doctor, I can assure you that scores of Guadeloupeans and Martinicans are sick because of chlordecone contamination and are dying every day.”

Maurice Antiste, the senator of Martinique, said: “The president cannot deny the fact that chlordecone poisoning causes [health] problems and a higher risk of death.”

Mr Macron’s comments also drew bitter criticism from chlordecone experts.

On Saturday, urologist Pascal Blanchet and scientist Luc Multigner, the authors of a study on chlordecone exposure and the risk of prostate cancer published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2010, accused the young centrist of making “incorrect” claims and of “underestimating” the chlordecone “problem”.

Mr Macron’s office on Monday scrambled to quell the controversy, saying that the comments were a “misunderstanding”.

An Elysée spokesperson told daily Le Monde: “The president never said that chlordecone is not carcinogenic.

“When he says we shouldn’t say it causes cancer, it is his way of saying: ‘We cannot make do with simply saying it is carcinogenic, we also need to take action.’

“Mr Macron is not a scientist but a political leader … it is not his place to say whether chlordecone causes cancer or not.”

For 20 years, more than 300 tons of chlordecone were sprayed on the banana plantations of Martinique and Guadeloupe, triggering a health and environmental crisis which is ongoing.

Even though chlordecone has not been used for more than two decades, some 700 years are necessary for it to get cleaned from the soil.

The two islands now have the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world, while premature births are four times higher than the national average.

Some 95 percent of Guadeloupeans and 92 percent of Martinicans are contaminated with chlordecone, a study published by Santé publique France last year showed.

Mr Macron said during a trip to Martinique in September that the government would bear responsibility for failing to ban chlordecone in its Caribbean territories.

He also promised to increase the budget for food controls of contaminated lands, but said that the islands’ 800,000 inhabitants should not expect a blanket compensation plan.

Friday’s meeting with some 60 mayors from overseas territories was part of a two-month national policy debate Mr Macron launched to mollify the anti-government yellow vest protest movement that has rocked France and undermined his authority.

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