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Ukraine Takes on Toxic Dumps ; the Former Soviet State Is Cleaning Up a Legacy of Central Economic Planning: Its Vast Stores of Obsolete Pesticides

Article excerpt

As Olena Cholovska approaches the crumbling brick warehouse, she sighs. The cold wind whipping her scarf around her head blows toxic greenish powder into the nearby cabbage fields.

"A year ago we were here and all the doors were still here," says Ms. Cholovska, the director of the Lviv Plant Inspection Station in Lviv Oblast, an administrative region in western Ukraine that borders Poland.

The villagers who made off with the derelict warehouse's metal and wooden doors - most likely to burn them or sell them for scrap - may have had no idea that they were intended to protect locals from a stockpile of pesticides that date back to Soviet times.

The abundance of toxic pesticides is not unique to this rural, northwestern region of Ukraine, an hour south of the city of Lviv. In a country about the size of Texas, the United Nations estimates that about 4,000 dumps house nearly 20,000 tons of obsolete pesticides. The potentially lethal waste hurts Ukraine's agricultural potential, especially when it comes to exporting produce to the expanding European Union (EU).

A few years ago, Cholovska says there were about 200 pesticide dumps in Lviv Oblast. Now, thanks to the efforts of about 25 Ukrainians working on behalf of universities, institutes, and local agencies, the number of dumps has been reduced to only 169.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is spearheading a project to help clean up the country, but officials on the ground face numerous challenges from locals' lack of awareness and cooperation.

"Some people have tried to put fences around the sites and they just take the fences," says Margaret Jones, an EPA pesticides scientist from Chicago who has visited some of the sites. "They saw one local guy running through the woods with literally the last brick from one of the sites. That brick is going to build something else and you hope it's not in someone's home."

The EPA, working with the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, is sponsoring demonstration projects to educate Ukrainians about the dangers of harmful pesticides. Over the past three years, some of the US government's $300,000 in aid has also gone toward computers and Internet access for Ukrainian government offices, some of which lack heat and electricity.

The bulk of Ukraine's left-over pesticides are classified by the EPA as persistent organic pesticides (POPs). …