Obsolete pesticides pose threat to Africa and Near East

Huge stocks of dangerous obsolete and unused pesticides in Africa and the Near East will pose a threat to humans and the environment until 2030, if funding for waste disposal remains at today's low level, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.

FAO called upon governments and industry to increase their efforts and financial support to solve this environmental problem at a donors meeting (24-25 May) in Rome.

It is estimated there are several hundred thousand tonnes of obsolete pesticide stocks worldwide, with more than 100,000 tonnes in developing countries. FAO estimates the amount of pesticide left-overs in Africa at 20,000 tonnes. The situation is particularly dangerous in Poland with 65,000 tonnes and the Ukraine with over 23,000 tonnes.

The lethal legacy of obsolete pesticides stocks continues to threaten human health and the environment, FAO said. “In many African countries, where FAO is involved in the disposal of hazardous pesticide stocks, metal drums filled with pesticides are leaking and corroding,” said FAO expert Alemayehu Wodageneh.

“Various accidents related to pesticides are quite common and widespread. Often drums are stored in the open, next to food stores or markets and easily accessible to children. Deadly chemicals are contaminating the soils, ground water, irrigation and drinking water. These ‘forgotten’ stocks are a serious risk, they could cause an environmental tragedy in rural areas and big cities. There is hardly any developing country that is not affected by the hazards of obsolete pesticides,” Wodageneh said.

Particularly in Africa, an enormous variety of pesticides have been imported by developing countries either donated by aid agencies or governments. Some stocks are over 30 years old and can no longer be used because they are banned or they have deteriorated as a result of prolonged storage. Further reasons for the accumulation of pesticides are: the inability to forecast pest outbreaks and excessive donations; inadequate storage facilities and poor stock management, ineffective or wrong pesticide formulations and aggressive sales practices.

Among the highly toxic and persistent pesticides identified were Aldrin, DDT, Dieldrin, Endrin, HCH, Lindane, Malathion, Parathion and many others.

Since 1994 around 3,000 tonnes were disposed of in 14 African and 2 Near East countries. “If the removal continues at the same speed as in the past, we shall need more than 30 years to finish the clean-up of obsolete stocks in Africa and the Near East. This would only include the removal of metal drums and other containers, but not the more difficult disposal of contaminated soil,” FAO said.

So far, around $24.4 million has been spent on the removal of pesticides in Africa and the Near East, FAO said. The clean-up was mainly funded by the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, South Africa, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Sweden and FAO. To clean all obsolete pesticide spots in Africa would cost between $80-100 million, FAO said. To remove one tonne of obsolete pesticides in Africa costs between $3,500 and $4,000.

Up till now the agro-chemical industry contributions were very limited, FAO said. Of the chemical companies, only Shell International contributed around $ 300,000 for a disposal of Dieldrin in Mauritania. “This is one percent of the total amount spent so far on the clean-up in Africa and the Near East,” Wodageneh noted. “The chemical industry is far from fulfilling its commitments to pay one US dollar per litre/kg for the removal of obsolete pesticide stocks in Africa and the Near East.”

“The support from industry is crucial for the future disposal of pesticides because aid agencies of donor countries cannot cover all costs without a substantial contribution from the industry. FAO therefore urges the companies to renew their commitment and to participate more in future disposal initiatives.”

FAO has started preparations for future clean-ups in Ethiopia and Tanzania. For Ethiopia, USAID announced a financial contribution of one million dollar, the Netherlands has pledged $2 million, and Sweden indicated the possibility of contributing one million. Donors are urging governments in developing countries to take concrete steps to avoid the future accumulation of obsolete pesticide stocks.

The safest way to dispose of obsolete pesticides is high temperature incineration, FAO said. Safe incinerators are rare in developing countries, and pesticides are re-packaged and shipped to a country with a hazardous waste destruction facility. In the past, waste was shipped to Europe.

FAO warned that the accumulation of hazardous pesticides in the environment will continue unabated as the worldwide annual sales of pesticides are still increasing substantially, especially in developing countries. FAO called upon its members to apply environmentally friendly Integrated Pest Management methods and to drastically reduce the use of pesticides, where this is possible.

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