Cleaning up the pesticides nobody wants
"If funding for waste disposal remains at today's low level," warned FAO expert, Alemayehu Wodageneh, "we shall need more than 30 years to clean up Africa and the Near East." It is estimated that there are several hundred thousand tonnes of obsolete pesticides - that is, banned, decomposed, or unwanted pesticides - worldwide, with well over 100 000 tonnes in developing countries. Some 20 000 tonnes are in Africa.
To remove one tonne of obsolete pesticides in Africa costs between US$3 500 and US$4 000 and FAO has estimated the total cost for cleaning up Africa at US$ 80 to 100 million.
The chemical industry has promised to pay at least a quarter of this - US$ 1 for every litre/kg of obsolete pesticide stocks removed in Africa and the Near East, but the industry is "far from fulfilling its commitment," according to Wodageneh.
So far, only Shell International has contributed, paying US$300 000 to clean up Dieldrin in Mauritania. This is slightly more than 1 percent of the money spent on pesticide disposal in Africa since 1994. (see graphic)
"The support from industry is crucial for the future disposal of pesticides, because aid agencies of donor countries cannot cover all costs without a substantial contribution from the industry," Wodageneh said. "FAO therefore urges the companies to renew their commitment and to participate more fully in future disposal initiatives." A donors' meeting is being held at FAO headquarters in Rome on 24-25 May.
Worldwide sales of pesticides increase substantially every year, especially in developing countries. In 1996, the industry's worldwide sales were US$ 33 billion.
The obsolete pesticides that dot the urban and rural landscape in developing countries include Aldrin, DDT, Dieldrin, Endrin, Fenitrothion, HCH, Lindane, Malathion, Parathion and many others. Most people are aware of the dangers of DDT. Dieldrin is said to be five times as toxic as DDT when swallowed, and 40 times as toxic when absorbed through the skin. Endrin is 15 times as toxic as DDT to mammals, 30 times as toxic to fish, and up to 300 times as toxic to some birds.
"Almost always, pesticides end up in the hands of those most unaware, poor or less likely to be able to protect themselves," Wodageneh said. "Often drums are stored in the open, next to food stores or markets and easily accessible to children. Deadly chemicals are contaminating the soils, groundwater, irrigation and drinking water. These "forgotten" stocks are a serious risk. They could cause an environmental tragedy in rural areas and big cities."
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24 May 1999