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Large amounts of unused pesticides pose a serious threat to the environment and public health in developing countries, according to an FAO study released in early June.
FAO estimates that developing countries are holding stocks of more than 100,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides, 20,000 of which are in Africa (see map). Many of these chemicals are so toxic that a few grams could poison thousands of people or contaminate a large area. Among the highly toxic and persistent substances are DDT, Dieldrin and HCH (Hexachlorocyclohexane). Most of these pesticides are left over from pesticide donations provided by foreign aid programmes. In the absence of environmentally sound disposal facilities, stocks are constantly increasing. FAO is calling for a concerted global effort to dispose of this hazardous waste and to avoid further accumulations.
"Obsolete pesticide stocks are potential time-bombs," said Niek van der Graaff, head of FAO's Plant Protection Service. "Leakage, seepage and various accidents related to pesticides are quite common and widespread. Storage conditions rarely meet internationally accepted standards. Many pesticide containers deteriorate and leak their contents into the soil, contaminating groundwater and the environment. Most stores are in the centres of urban areas or close to public dwellings."
In Africa and the Near East, obsolete pesticides have become a source of great environmental concern, the report said. Some stocks are over 30 years old and are kept in poor conditions with few or no safety precautions. There is not a single country that is not affected by the serious environmental hazards associated with obsolete pesticides. Unless quick action is taken, the situation can be both catastrophic and irreversible, FAO said.
Over the years, an enormous variety of pesticides have been imported by developing countries as donations from aid agencies or governments. "Of the known total figure of $672 million-worth of pesticides imported into Africa in 1993-94, at least 40 percent, or $269 million-worth, might have been wasted," the report said. Data from other regions show that the problem is not limited to Africa, but also exists in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Common reasons for pesticide leftovers, according to FAO, include:
FAO has issued several publications providing advice on how to prevent accumulation of
obsolete pesticides and how to control and dispose of unwanted stocks. Documents
For further information, please contact Alemayehu.Wodageneh@fao.org