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Public Health Statement for Endosulfan


June 2013

CAS# 115-29-7

Public Health Statement PDF PDF Version, 349 KB

This Public Health Statement is the summary chapter from the Toxicological Profile for Endosulfan. It is one in a series of Public Health Statements about hazardous substances and their health effects. A shorter version, the ToxFAQsTM, is also available. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1 800-232-4636.


We define a public health statement and show how it can help you learn about endosulfan.


A public health statement summarizes information about a hazardous substance. The information is taken from a toxicological profile developed by ATSDR's Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences (DTHHS). A toxicological profile is a thorough review of a hazardous substance.

This toxicological profile examines endosulfan including the α-isomer, β-isomer, and the degradation product, endosulfan sulfate. This public health statement summarizes the DTHHS's findings on endosulfan, describes the effects of exposure to it, and describes what you can do to limit that exposure.

Endosulfan at hazardous waste sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation. U.S. EPA then includes these sites the National Priorities List (NPL) and targets them for federal clean-up activities. U.S. EPA has found endosulfan in at least 176 of the 1,699 current or former NPL sites.

The total number of NPL sites evaluated for endosulfan is not known. But the possibility remains that as more sites are evaluated, the number of sites at which endosulfan is found may increase. This information is important; these future sites may be sources of exposure, and exposure to endosulfan may be harmful.

Why an endosulfan release can be harmful

When a contaminant is released from a large area such as an industrial plant or from a container such as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment. But such a release doesn't always lead to exposure. You can only be exposed to a contaminant when you come in contact with it. That contact--and therefore that exposure--can occur when you breathe, eat, or drink the contaminant, or when it touches your skin.

Even if you're exposed to endosulfan, you might not be harmed. Whether you are harmed will depend on such factors as the dose (how much), the duration (how long), and how you happen to contact it. Harm might also depend on whether you've been exposed to any other chemicals, as well as your age, sex, diet, family traits, lifestyle, and state of health.

A Closer Look at Endosulfan


This section describes endosulfan in detail and how you can be exposed to it.

What is endosulfan?

Endosulfan is a restricted-use pesticide that is particularly effective against aphids, fruit worms, beetles, leafhoppers, moth larvae, and white flies on a wide variety of crops. It is not approved for residential use. It is sold as a mixture of two different forms of the same chemical (referred to as α- and β endosulfan). It is a cream-to-brown-colored solid that may appear crystalline or in flakes. It has a distinct odor similar to turpentine. The use of endosulfan is being restricted to certain crops and is scheduled to be canceled for all uses by 2016.

How is endosulfan used?

Solid and liquid formulations are currently registered for active use in the United States. Dustable and wettable powders are recognized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), and may be available outside the United States. The restricted use classification requires that registered products may only be applied by a "certified pesticide applicator" or under the direct supervision of a certified pesticide applicator. Endosulfan is applied to crops by aerial or ground-level foliar spray.

Where is endosulfan found?

Endosulfan can be released into the air, water, and soil in areas where it is applied as a pesticide.

Possible Sources Outcome
Air: Levels of endosulfan in air samples are highly variable depending on location. Remote Arctic air concentrations range from 3.3 to 8.3 picograms per cubic meter [pg/m3]. Rural areas tend to have higher reported concentrations (18-82 pg/m3), with spikes reported during growing seasons. In the air, α- and β-endosulfan may be broken down by chemical reactions, but are not expected to be broken down by direct sunlight. Endosulfan sulfate may be broken down by sunlight, but data are conflicting. Endosulfan can be transported long distances in the air to remote locations.
Water: Levels of endosulfan in drinking water sources are regularly monitored through federal and state government programs. Endosulfan generally has low rates of detection in groundwater. Surface water concentrations are highly variable, but are generally highest in water bodies that drain areas of high agricultural use (0.21-54 nanograms/liter [ng/L] for α-endosulfan). α-Endosulfan and β-endosulfan will transform in water into the less toxic endosulfan diol. Endosulfan sulfate is more difficult to break down in water.
Soil: Endosulfan is applied directly to plants and soil during its use as pesticide. In soil, endosulfan attaches to soil particles and is not expected to move from soil to groundwater. α-Endosulfan and β-endosulfan are expected to break down in soil, but endosulfan sulfate is more resistant. Movement of α- and β-endosulfan from soil surfaces to air may be significant.
Food: Endosulfan residues can be present in food; the highest concentrations reported were in fresh and frozen vegetables (0.011-0.037 parts per million [ppm]).

Dietary intake is expected to be the main source of endosulfan exposure to the general population.

How Endosulfan Can Affect Your Health


This section looks at how endosulfan enters your body and potential endosulfan health effects found in human and animal studies.

How endosulfan enters your body

Endosulfan can enter your body from water, food, or soil.

How endosulfan leaves your body

Endosulfan has been detected in the urine of exposed people. In animals, endosulfan and breakdown products leave the body mainly in the feces within a few days or weeks.

Introduction to endosulfan health effects

The health effects of endosulfan depend on how much endosulfan you are exposed to and the length of that exposure. Environmental monitoring data suggest that any endosulfan levels the public might encounter through contact, through water, soil, or food are generally much lower than animal-study levels.

Short-term exposure effects

People who ingested endosulfan either intentionally or in contaminated food, or who were exposed during spraying fields suffered tremors and seizures and some died.

The same types of effects have been observed in animals exposed briefly to high levels of endosulfan.

Long-term exposure effects There are no studies of people exposed to low levels of endosulfan for long periods of time (i.e., years). Animal studies have shown that swallowing endosulfan in contaminated food over long periods affects mainly the kidneys.
Endosulfan and cancer Studies of occupational and environmental exposure of humans did not provide conclusive evidence that endosulfan can cause cancer. Endosulfan did not cause cancer in animal studies.
Some cancer findings by government and other agencies

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. EPA, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have not classified endosulfan as to its ability to cause cancer.

See Chapters 2 and 3 for more information on endosulfan health effects.

Children and Endosulfan


This section discusses potential health effects of endosulfan exposure in humans from when they're first conceived to 18 years of age, and how you might protect against such effects.

Exposure effects for children generally

Children who accidentally ate endosulfan or received applications of endosulfan onto the skin to remove lice developed seizures, the same effect seen in adults exposed to high amounts of endosulfan.

What about birth defects and other effects?

We do not know whether endosulfan can produce birth defects in children.

Studies have examined possible associations between maternal exposure to endosulfan and autism, thyroid function, and development of the nervous system in newborn children. Studies also have examined potential associations between direct exposure of children to endosulfan and blood cancer and sexual maturation in males. In all cases, the results were suggestive but not conclusive due to study limitations.

Effects in animals

Exposure of pregnant animals to endosulfan can produce abnormalities in the skeleton and organs in the offspring and reduced pup weight during lactation. This often occurred with doses that were also toxic to the mothers.

Some studies showed that exposure of pregnant rats to endosulfan resulted in decrease in sperm in the male offspring when they reached adulthood. Other studies did not find this effect.

Breast milk Endosulfan has been found in human breast milk, which means that mothers can transfer this chemical to their babies by nursing.

Medical Tests to Determine Endosulfan Exposure


We identify medical tests that can detect whether endosulfan is in your body, and we recommend safe toxic-substance practices.

Endosulfan can be measured in blood and urine

Endosulfan and its breakdown products (metabolites) can be measured in blood, urine, fat tissue, and breast milk. However, the detection of endosulfan does not necessarily mean that you will suffer adverse health effects. Because endosulfan and its metabolites leave the body fairly rapidly (within days), the tests need to be conducted within a few days after exposure.

For more information on the different substances formed by endosulfan breakdown and on tests to detect these substances in the body, see Chapters 3 and 7.

Federal Government Recommendations to Protect Human Health


One way the federal government promotes public health is by regulating toxic substances or recommending ways to handle or to avoid toxic substances.

The federal government regulates toxic substances

Regulations are enforceable by law. The U.S. EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are some federal agencies that have adopted toxic substances regulations.

The federal government recommends safe toxic substance practices

ATSDR and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have made recommendations about toxic substances. Unlike enforceable regulations, these recommendations are advisory only.

Toxic substance regulations

Regulations and recommendations can be expressed as "not-to-exceed" levels, that is, levels of a toxic substance in air, water, soil, or food that do not exceed a critical value usually based on levels that affect animals; levels are then adjusted to help protect humans. Sometimes these not-to-exceed levels differ among federal organizations. Different organizations use different exposure times (an 8-hour workday or a 24-hour day), different animal studies, or emphasize some factors over others, depending on their mission.

Check for regulation updates

Recommendations and regulations are also updated periodically as more information becomes available. For the most current information, check with the federal agency or organization that issued the regulation or recommendation.

Some regulations and recommendations for endosulfan include

Federal Organization Regulation or Recommendation
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The U.S. EPA recommends that the amount of endosulfan sulfate in lakes, rivers, and streams should not be more than 62 micrograms per liter (µg/L). This should prevent any harmful health effects from occurring in people who drink the water or eat fish or seafood that live in the water.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

OSHA has not set a legal limit of endosulfan in air for an 8-hour work day.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) NIOSH recommends a limit of 0.1 milligram per cubic meter (mg/m3) of endosulfan in air averaged over a 10-hour work day.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2013. Toxicological Profile for Endosulfan. (Draft for Public Comment). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.

Where can I get more information?

If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:

For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-57
Atlanta, GA 30329-4027
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO · 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO

ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.

Information line and technical assistance:
Phone: 888-422-8737

To order toxicological profiles, contact:
National Technical Information Service
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
Phone: 800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000

Some PDF files may be electronic conversions from paper copy or other electronic ASCII text files. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors. Users are referred to the original paper copy of the toxicological profile for the official text, figures, and tables. Original paper copies can be obtained via the directions on the toxicological profile home page, which also contains other important information about the profiles.

The information contained here was correct at the time of publication. Please check with the appropriate agency for any changes to the regulations or guidelines cited.

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