UN FAO warns of toxic time bomb in developing world

The developing world is facing the threat of a toxic time bomb of chemical waste from the huge stockpiles of unused or obsolete pesticides, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) warned this week.

The UN FAO called for additional funding to help remove the problem and added that it would run out of funds for dealing with many of the stockpiles later this year.

“Affected countries are calling – ever more frequently and with greater urgency – for assistance to remove their obsolete pesticide stocks and prevent the further accumulation of toxic waste.”

“Unfortunately, without additional funds from donor countries, FAO will be unable to respond to its member nations that need assistance because funding for an FAO programme on the prevention and disposal of obsolete pesticides will run out at the end of this year,” said Mark Davis, head of FAO’s programme on the Prevention and Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides.

Obsolete pesticides are left over from pest control campaigns and stockpiles have built up because so many have been banned for health or environmental reasons but were never removed or disposed of. Stocks remain where they are stored and often deteriorate to contaminate the environment.

It is estimated that, for example, Ukraine has around 19,500 tonnes of ageing chemicals, Macedonia 10,000 tonnes, Poland 15,000 tonnes and Moldova 6,600 tonnes. Stocks in Asia are currently recorded at 6,000 tonnes. However, this figure does not include China where the problem of pesticide waste is believed to be widespread.

The waste sites contain chemicals such as POPs, aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor and organophosphates. Pesticide poisoning is common close to unmanaged sites and the worst affected are often poor rural communities that may not be aware of the chemicals toxic nature.

“Clean up and prevention measures urgently need to be combined. The awareness of a targeted and limited use of pesticides, respecting human health and the environment, needs to be urgently raised in many countries. More countries are showing a desire to address the problem of pesticide management and use,” Mr Davis said.

Cleaning up of one tonne of obsolete pesticide waste costs around US$3,500. Most developing countries do not have the facilities for safe hazardous waste disposal.

The FAO is particularly worried about the pesticide problem at the moment due to the current upsurge in locust numbers and hopes that this will not lead to a further build up of stocks to spray over affected areas. Non-chemical insecticides do exist, some based on fungi, which specifically infect and kill locust and grasshopper pests.

FAO has been the lead agency in dealing with obsolete pesticides in developing countries since 1994. It promotes and supports integrated pest management programmes and strong pesticide control measures.

By David Hopkins

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