ROME, Italy, 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 program.
"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 destroyed.
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 is planned.
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 Lake Titicaca.
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 stockpiles.
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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