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U.S. government authorities have often dismissed complaints of adverse health and environmental effects of the spray campaigns as scientifically unsound or otherwise lacking in credibility. Based on our review of news reports, eyewitness accounts, scientific information available on the chemicals being used, and arguments for and against the spray campaigns from governmental and nongovernmental sources, we believe the following to be true:

1) Aerial spraying has a significant negative impact on the lives of large numbers of people, particularly the rural poor, in Colombia. There is strong evidence linking spraying with serious human health effects; large-scale destruction of food crops; and severe environmental impacts in sensitive tropical ecosystems. There is also evidence of links between fumigation and loss of agricultural resources, including fish kills and sickness and death of livestock.

2) Many of the reported effects are consistent with the known effects of the chemicals used and with the manner in which they are applied. Reports of even more serious effects highlight the need for further study of hazards posed by the particular mix being used in Colombia.

3) Criticisms and complaints are based on sound facts and come from a wide range of respected national and international individuals and organizations-not from unreliable or self-interested sources as U.S. government sources often suggest.

The Human Impacts of the Aerial Eradication Program

Numerous individuals and community groups in Colombia have registered formal complaints about adverse effects of the spray campaigns. Many of these complaints were reviewed and summarized by the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a Federal Advisory Committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. NEJAC issued a letter on July 19, 2001, stating that:

aerial eradication has seriously affected weak and marginalized communities of poor farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and settlers. Hundreds of complaints from these communities were registered with local and national offices of the Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman. Aerial spraying of the herbicide has caused eye, respiratory, skin and digestive ailments; destroyed subsistence crops; sickened domestic animals; and contaminated water supplies.14

Affected communities have lodged two principal complaints: aerial spraying causes adverse human health effects, and aerial spraying has destroyed food crops and sickened or killed livestock and farmed fish.

Reports from the ground: Human health effects

Major U.S. and international media have reported frequently over the past year and a half on widespread impacts of spraying on human health. For example, in the southern Colombian province of Putumayo, a representative of the indigenous Cofán people was quoted by the BBC as saying that the people of his community were suffering from headaches, fever, and rashes associated with the spraying. 15 Also in Putumayo, the New York Times reported that the Health Department received many complaints of dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, itchy skin, red eyes, and headaches in the aftermath of aerial spraying. Skin reactions were reported to be particularly prevalent among children. 16 In the department of Nariño, a physician in the town of Aponte reported that aerial spraying on indigenous people's lands had caused "an epidemic" of "rash, fever, diarrhea and eye infections." 17

In February 2001, the Health Department in Putumayo published a preliminary report on interviews conducted with residents, health care providers, and police in the municipalities of Orito, Valle del Guamuez, and San Miguel. 18 These municipalities were targeted by spray campaigns from December 22, 2000 to February 2, 2001. According to the report, medical personnel in three local hospitals reported increased visits due to skin problems such as dermatitis, impetigo, and abscesses, as well as abdominal pain, diarrhea, gastrointestinal infections, acute respiratory infection, and conjunctivitis following spraying in the rural areas surrounding their respective municipalities.

In August 2001, a commission from the European Network of Brotherhood and Solidarity with Colombia visited the Province of Santander. The commission reported that "contrary to official declarations about the harmlessness of glyphosate, we were able to verify skin conditions (rashes and itching caused by the skin drying to the point of cracking) in both children and adults who were exposed directly to spraying while they worked their land or played outside their homes." 19

Even in neighboring Ecuador, communities near the Colombian border have reported illnesses after aerial spraying was conducted on the Colombian side. In October 2000, the health center in Mataje, Esmeraldas, a community of 154, reported treating 44 residents and another 29 people from surrounding areas for skin and eye irritation, vomiting and diarrhea in the aftermath of spraying. 20 The Ecuadorian press also reported in June 2001, that the Marco Vinicio Iza hospital, in Sucumbios Province, which borders the Colombian province of Putumayo to the south, was treating 10 to 15 patients a day for skin, respiratory, and other problems that local doctors attributed to the spraying. 21 In September 2001, a class action suit was filed in U.S. federal court in Washington D.C. against DynCorp Corporation-the private contractor conducting the spraying in Colombia-on behalf of Ecuadorian Indians living near the Colombian border. The suit alleges that the spray campaign "caused severe physical and mental damage to Plaintiffs, their children, and other similarly situated lawful residents of Ecuador who have nothing whatever to do with the production of illegal drugs in Colombia." 22

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14 Peggy Shepard, Chair, National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, letter to Christine Todd Whitman, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (July 19, 2001).

15 "Guerra contra los cocales," BBC World Service, Op. cit.

16 Juan Forero, "No Crops Spared in Colombia's Coca War," New York Times (January 31, 2001).

17 Marjon van Royen, Op. Cit.

18 Departamento Administrativo de Salud, Oficina de Planeación, Sección Epidemiología, "Efectos de la fumigación: Valle del Guamuez y San Miguel Putumayo," (February 2001).

19 Red Europea de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia, "Informe Sobre Los Efectos de las Fumigaciones y las Constantes Violaciones a los DDHH en el Valle del Río Cimitarra," Equipo Nizkor--Serpaj Europa, September 3, 2001. (Contact for more information.)

20 El Comercio, Quito, (October 22, 2000) cited in Adolfo Maldonado, Ricardo Buitrón, Patricia Granda, Lucía Gallardo, Reporte de la Investigación de los Impactos de las Fumigaciones en la Frontera Ecuatoriana. June 2001.

21 "La muerte viene del cielo," La Hora, Quito, (June 27, 2001).

22 Aguasanta Arias et al. vs. DynCorp, Class Action Complaint For Equitable Relief and Damages, Filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, September 11, 2001.