Rome, 19 February - Ten leaking
shipping containers of a toxic pesticide are creating serious
human health and environmental problems in the port of Djibouti,
the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today. The
present location of the containers is already severely
contaminated, according to FAO. The worst affected site is
within 400 m of a food aid store.
called for an immediate emergency intervention to avoid further
contamination of the port and its workers. "The
authorities in Djibouti should not be left alone with this
problem," said FAO expert Kevin Helps, who was asked by
the Djibouti Ministry of Agriculture to visit the site and make
chromated copper arsenate is primarily used as a wood
preservative for power and telegraph poles, Helps said. The
chemical is carcinogenous and dangerous to the environment.
Over 200 tonnes of the chemical were
shipped recently from the UK to be delivered to the Ethiopian
Power Corporation. The chemicals were packaged in plastic
containers. "All previous shipments of this chemical
have used steel drums for the product and no leakage occurred.
It appears that the plastic containers have suffered a
catastrophic failure resulting in leakage from the
container," Helps said. "The containers must
have started to leak while on the vessel."
"There is no danger to the entire port yet,
but we are concerned about the current storage point. Liquid
continues to leak from all the containers. An attempt to open
one of the containers to inspect the cargo was stopped when
liquid started to flow," Helps said.
Until recently the port authorities had not received
information about the toxicity of the cargo and safety data.
"There is no doubt that the incorrect handling of the
chemical has exposed many workers to unacceptable levels of this
toxic material," Helps said.
authorities have taken first steps to safeguard the contaminated
areas, and the potential for the spread of contamination by dust
or wind has been reduced.
As an immediate
emergency intervention, FAO suggested setting the storage site
as a quarantine area and placing guards to prevent access to the
site. All further leakage should be contained to prevent further
soil contamination. "Under no circumstances should the
containers be opened until a specialist in dealing with
hazardous waste with all necessary safety equipment is present
at the site," Helps said. "The pesticides
cannot be transported to Ethiopia without being
must be completed before the chemical is spread by rains. The
chemical is highly soluble and very easily leached from soil. If
the chemical were to be leached into the sea, the impact on the
fish stocks would be very serious."
Highly contaminated material needs to be sent back to
the UK, according to FAO. "Currently no suitable
facilities exist in Africa for the safe disposal of this
hazardous product. The final repackaging and decontamination
will cost a minimum of US$800,000. The immediate emergency
intervention will amount to US$35,000," Helps said.
FAO recommended that the State of Djibouti
pursues a "polluter pays" approach.
"The final liability for the cargo needs urgent
clarification. The party responsible for the leakage and
contamination needs to be identified and held