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Press Release 01/28


Rome, 9 May - More than 500,000 tonnes of old and unused pesticides that have been banned or expired are seriously threatening the health of millions of people and the environment in nearly all developing countries and countries in transition, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in a new report issued today (*). The figures are dramatically higher than previous estimates of around 100,000 tonnes.

The report will be discussed at an international donor meeting in Rome (10-11 May 2001).

According to FAO, the quantities of these obsolete pesticides in Africa and the Near East are estimated at over 100,000 tonnes, in Asia at over 200,000 tonnes and in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union at more than 200,000 tonnes. For Latin America FAO is still preparing inventories.

"The lethal legacy of obsolete pesticides is alarming and urgent action is needed to clean up waste dumps," said Alemayehu Wodageneh, FAO expert on obsolete pesticides. "These 'forgotten' stocks are not only a hazard to people's health but they also contaminate natural resources like water and soil. Leaking pesticides can poison a very large area, making it unfit for crop production."

The pesticide waste has accumulated over more than 30 years and products are being added continuously, FAO said. The waste sites contain some of the most dangerous insecticides like the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin and heptachlor that have been banned in most countries, and organophosphates. As pesticides deteriorate, they form by-products, which may be more toxic than the original substance. In addition to pesticides, waste sites contain contaminated sprayers, empty pesticide containers and huge quantities of heavily polluted soil.

Many stocks are situated near farm fields and wells in poor rural areas, as well as near houses, food stores and markets in urban areas. The dumps are often abandoned, unmanaged and in very poor condition, FAO said. In many cases pesticides are left in the open; stores are built in a traditional way, using mud and straw, with earth floors; metal containers are corroding and toxic substances are leaking into the ground.

Often toxic waste sites are located in the centre of villages. There are hardly any security measures. Near stores of abandoned and leaking pesticides, people often prepare food and draw water, children play there and animals graze nearby. Although there have been no systematic studies on health effects, local people complain about headaches, nausea and coughing.

Obsolete pesticides have accumulated because a number of products have been banned for health or environmental reasons, but were never removed and disposed of; stocks remain where they are stored and eventually deteriorate, FAO said. In many African countries, for example, dieldrin was used to control locust outbreaks until the late 1980s. After that time, it was decided not to use dieldrin any further but no provisions were made to remove or use up existing stocks.

Often formulations are not stable under tropical conditions and therefore, the product rapidly degrades. Many pesticides have a shelf-live of only two years, and improper storage under tropical heat and humidity reduces this already short life span further. In some instances, pesticides were not labelled or labelled in a language the user could not understand, and, therefore, these pesticides were not used.

Pesticides have been provided in the past by international aid agencies with good intentions, but insufficient coordination among aid agencies has been a major factor for excessive supplies, FAO said. In addition, developing country governments, in particular countries with a state-run economy, have bought pesticides, and then failed to use them. The build-up of stocks of obsolete pesticides still occurs in parts of Africa.

In many cases, products were found to be not effective against the pests or weeds they were supposed to destroy, and were therefore never used. Also, the forecast of a pest outbreak can be difficult, and a lower pest incidence than expected may result in unused pesticides stocks. Especially in the fight against locusts, several countries built up large pesticide stocks that were never used.

The major pesticide producers are based in Europe, the United States, Japan, China and India. "Large sums of money are involved in pesticide supply," according to the FAO report. "As a result, a variety of hidden interests may play a role in decisions concerning pesticide procurement or donation. Often these interests are not strictly related to the best technical solution to pest problems."

Obsolete pesticides are considered hazardous waste, FAO said. Removal and destruction is expensive. The cost of disposal is estimated at around US$ 3 per kilogram or litre. Funding for disposal has been provided nearly exclusively by governments and aid agencies. So far, less than 3,000 tonnes have been removed in Africa and the Near East. The clean up has mainly been funded by the Netherlands, Germany, the US, Sweden and FAO.

FAO assists the government of Ethiopia in the biggest clean-up project of dangerous pesticides in Africa. Around 3,000 tonnes of pesticides, plus heavily contaminated soil have to be removed from 900 sites. They will be shipped to Finland for incineration, currently the only safe and environmental acceptable way of destruction. Total disposal costs are estimated at around US$ 8 million, of which, so far, around $4 million has been provided by the Netherlands, the United States and Sweden.

In its new report, FAO called upon chemical companies represented by the Global Crop Protection Federation (GCPF), to contribute urgently to the global disposal of pesticides produced by GCPF member companies. Industry has made a commitment to pay for the incineration of obsolete pesticides, but so far, companies have contributed little to the disposal of obsolete stocks, FAO said.

"Support from industry is crucial for the future disposal of pesticides because aid agencies of donor countries cannot cover all the costs without a substantial contribution from industry," Wodageneh said.

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.

(*) The report was co-published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).


For more information on obsolete pesticides please visit or contact Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, Tel: 0039-06-5705 3105.

For video material on obsolete pesticides in Ethiopia please contact Enrique Yeves, Video Production Manager, Tel: 0039-06-5705 2518.

Two Audio-clips on Obsolete pesticides

1) In the following interview, Mr. Alemayehu Wodageneh, Rome-based FAO Coordinator of the Programme on Obsolete pesticides, tells Liliane Kambirigi (FAO) that inventories of obsolete, unwanted and banned pesticide stocks as well as funds collection for their disposal are the most urgent actions, now.

Duration: 2min11sec

In Realaudio (Instant play, 269 Kb)

In mp3 (Broadcast quality, 1020 Kb)

2) FAO and the Ethiopian government join efforts in a current project on the prevention and disposal of obsolete pesticides in Ethiopia. In the following interview by Erwin Northoff(FAO), Mr. Kevin Helps, FAO project co-ordinator in Ethiopia, mentions three major ways to help reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture.

Duration: 1min13sec

In Realaudio (Instant play, 152Kb)

In mp3 (Broadcast quality, 574Kb)

Instructions for listening to audio files:

- To play the RealAudio files requires the RealPlayer software, see (RealPlayer is free)

- To play the mp3 files requires any mp3 player software: Winamp, Windows
Media player, Quicktime 4.0;RealplayerG2, etc...

All free on the Web:;;

If you can't download, please call the Radio Unit for a feed:
- Tel:+ 39-06-5705 6863 /3749


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