Approximately 20,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides are stored in Africa, often in containers that leak toxic waste into the environment, according to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report. FAO calls on agrochemical companies to share in the cost of disposing of these stocks, which is estimated to be more than US$100 million.
"Obsolete" refers to pesticides that have been banned or whose shelf life has expired.
"Obsolete pesticide stocks are potential time bombs", according to Niek van der Graaff, director of FAO's Plant Protection Service. Drums are frequently stored in the open, exposed to direct sun and rain. Leaks, seepage and accidents are common and widespread. In addition, most stores are in urban areas or close to residential dwellings.
FAO states that many of these stockpiled pesticides are so toxic that a few grams could poison thousands of people or contaminate a large area. The report also documents stocks of highly persistent pesticides, including DDT, dieldrin and HCH.
Because most developing countries do not have facilities for disposing of pesticides, obsolete stocks must be sent to industrialised countries for disposal, increasing costs substantially. A recent operation to transport nearly 260 tonnes of obsolete pesticides from Yemen to Europe for incineration cost US$3000-4000 per tonne.
FAO recommends using high temperature incineration to dispose of pesticides.
"Aid" arrangements are responsible for a significant part of the obsolete pesticide stocks in Africa, according to the Pesticides Trust. Excessive donations, donations that arrived too late and donations of inappropriate products have made a major contribution to the stockpiles.
In addition, aggressive marketing by the pesticide industry has led to the build-up of pesticide stocks in Africa. Of approximately US$672 million worth of pesticides imported into African countries during 1993-94, as much as 40% might be obsolete, according to FAO.
[From Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service.]