May 31, 2005 (ENS): The piles of toxic chemical
waste from unused and obsolete pesticides in Latin America
are at least three times larger than previously thought,
the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) said Monday. But the international organization
has run out of funds to help developing countries safely
remove and destroy these chemicals.
"Previous FAO estimates, based on information
provided by countries, suggested a total of about 10,000
metric tons of chemicals requiring disposal in the region,"
said Mark Davis, coordinator of FAO's obsolete pesticides
"Since that time a more frightening picture has
begun to emerge indicating that stocks are far higher
and are currently estimated to be between 30,000 and
50,000 tons," Davis said.
Obsolete pesticides are left over from pest control
campaigns in cotton and other cash-crop production.
Stockpiles have accumulated because a number of products
have been banned for health or environmental reasons,
but were never removed and disposed of. Some of the
pesticides found by investigators are 30 years old.
In northern Colombia, around 200 metric tons of the
most toxic pesticides were discovered in a single site
in El Copey/César Region. Around 170,000 liters
of highly hazardous methyl parathion and 10,000 liters
of the persistent organic pollutant toxaphene were found.
The FAO has supported the government of Colombia in
surveying the site and chemicals were repackaged and
In addition, the Colombian authorities have discovered
a site where an estimated 5,000 metric tons of pesticides
have been buried at a location where some displaced
families have settled and where housing construction
In Paraguay, urgent efforts are being made to remove
125 tons of pesticides and heavily contaminated material
that were damaged by fire in the capital, Asunción,
in July 2003. Efforts to extinguish the fire led to
heavy contamination of the nearby Paraguay River, which
flows into Argentina and finally into the Atlantic Ocean,
as well as an adjacent village where people are now
showing various symptoms of chronic contamination.
The FAO is assisting Paraguay in quantifying obsolete
pesticide stocks in other parts of the country. Funds
of approximately $3 million will be needed to remove
and destroy this toxic waste before further harm is
caused to people and the environment.
In Bolivia, old stocks of donated arsenic based pesticides
and cocktails of volatile fumigants were found in residential
areas and close to important water bodies, including
Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the region,
has made efforts to take stock and safely secure these
toxins by repackaging the waste with the support of
FAO. But still Bolivia needs US$3 million to remove
the chemicals and put in place measures to strengthen
The FAO has organized a regional training program for
nine South American countries. Government regulators,
emergency service staff, industry representatives and
nongovernmental organizations have learned how to safely
and effectively complete a detailed inventory and environmental
risk assessment of obsolete pesticides, and how to design
and supervise a cleanup operation.
But now the FAO Obsolete Pesticides Programme has
no further funds to support such work in the Latin America
region, Davis said. The FAO is therefore calling for
donor funding to build capacity in the region and to
ensure that it complies with the highest international
"Affected countries are calling - ever more frequently
and with greater urgency - for assistance to remove
their obsolete pesticide stocks and prevent the further
accumulation of toxic waste," said Davis last September.
"Unfortunately, without additional funds from
donor countries, FAO will be unable to respond to its
member nations that need assistance because funding
for an FAO programme on the prevention and disposal
of obsolete pesticides is ending by the end of this
year," he said then.
But donors have not come forward since then to help
the FAO accomplish the safe disposal of these toxic
FAO has been the lead agency in dealing with obsolete
pesticides in developing countries since 1994. FAO activities
include initiating and coordinating national inventories,
coordinating and monitoring disposal projects, publishing
guidelines on prevention and management and public outreach.
FAO also promotes and supports integrated pest management
programmes and strong pesticide control measures.
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