Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Companies such as Bayer, Sumitomo, Sandoz, Shell, Rhone Poulenc, DuPont, Union Carbide and Monsanto abandoned the pesticides in Nepal after the chemicals reached their expiration date or were banned. The companies originally exported most of the pesticides to Nepal as donations or as part of international "aid" packages.
Earlier this month, a dozen activists from India, Germany and the U.K. spent two weeks alongside Nepalese agricultural technicians near Kathmandu, Nepal trying to make an old warehouse safe where pesticides had been stored in their original -- now rusting and rotting -- containers. Greenpeace says that this attempt to contain the stockpile of obsolete pesticides has been successful. The clean-up crew aimed to contain all the poisons in high density barrels and hundreds of small containers to prepare them for transport back to the original countries of production.
The most dangerous pesticides at the Kathmandu site according to Greenpeace are chlorinated organomercury compounds produced by the German company Bayer and banned in the European Union since 1988. Greenpeace added that Bayer has refused repeated requests from the Nepalese government to help clean up the stocks.
According to a report released earlier this year, more than 500,000 tonnes of old and unused pesticides are seriously threatening the health of millions of people and the environment in developing countries and countries in transition. The report, co-authored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations Environment Program, stated that the figures are dramatically higher than previous estimates of around 100,000 tonnes.
The report estimates that stocks of obsolete pesticides (those that have been banned or expired) include over 100,000 tonnes in Africa and the Near East, over 200,000 tonnes in Asia and more than 200,000 tonnes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The FAO is still preparing inventories for Latin America.
"There is hardly any developing country that is not affected by the hazards of obsolete pesticides," FAO expert Alemayehu Wodageneh said.
Poisons leaking from the stocks threaten human health, contaminate natural resources like soil and water and make fields unfit for crop production. The often abandoned pesticide stocks are situated in rural areas near farm fields and wells and in urban centers near houses, food stores and markets. With rarely any security measures, people prepare food and fetch water, children play and animals graze around toxic waste sites in villages.
Among the highly toxic and persistent pesticides in the waste sites around the world are aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, malathion, and parathion.
Pesticide formulations are often unstable under tropical conditions and degrade rapidly. Many pesticides have a shelf-live of only two years, and improper storage under tropical heat and humidity can further reduce this short life span. As pesticides deteriorate, they form by-products that can be more toxic than the original substance.
Obsolete pesticides are considered hazardous waste, the FAO said. Removal and destruction is expensive -- the cost of disposal is estimated at around US$3 per kilogram or litre. Despite industry commitments to pay US$1 per kilogram/litre for the incineration of obsolete pesticides, the FAO reports that companies have so far contributed little funding to the disposal efforts. Since aid agencies of donor countries cannot cover all the disposal costs, Wodageneh said that support from industry is crucial.
The safest way to dispose of obsolete pesticides is high temperature incineration, the FAO said. Since safe incinerators are rare in developing countries, pesticides are repackaged and shipped to a country with a hazardous waste destruction facility. However, incinerating the contents of the metal drums and other containers of obsolete pesticides does not address the more difficult problem of cleaning up contaminated soil.
The FAO called upon its members to apply environmentally-friendly integrated pest management (IPM) methods and to drastically reduce the use of pesticides.
Sources: FAO Press Release, May 9, 2001; United Nations Environment Programme Press Release, May 25, 1999; Environmental News Network, "Pesticides Sent as Aid to Nepal Now Toxic Waste," October 18, 2001.