Old Pesticides Pose New Problems for Developing World. (Trade/Commerce)

By Brown, Valerie J. | Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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Old Pesticides Pose New Problems for Developing World. (Trade/Commerce)


Brown, Valerie J., Environmental Health Perspectives


For decades, stockpiles of obsolete, expired, and banned pesticides have posed significant health risks to people in developing countries. Now some observers are cautiously optimistic that the problem is beginning to be addressed.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 500,000 tons of obsolete pesticides no longer usable for their intended purpose are scattered throughout developing countries. Africa is the best inventoried continent, and the problem there is severe, but pesticides also threaten health in Latin America, Asia, and the former Soviet republics.

Stockpiled products originate primarily in western Europe, but also come from the United States, China, India, and other countries. They may originally have been sold or donated, either directly or through aid organizations. Among the pesticides of concern listed in Baseline Study on the Problem of Obsolete Pesticide Stocks, a 2001 report by the FAO, are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, and endrin. These can cause nausea, convulsions, liver damage, and death. DDT is also classified as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

End users in recipient countries may be unable to read usage instructions and precautions (where they exist), and may use containers for carrying drinking water or food. Governments are often aware of the health threats posed by the pesticides, but may be constrained by a lack of funding and knowledge of proper disposal procedures. Thus, many stockpiles are buried, burned in open containers, or simply left outdoors to migrate into soil and water from leaking containers. Some products decay into even more toxic compounds. For example, malathion can decay into malaoxon, which is 10 times more toxic than the original pesticide.

Tanzania's case is typical. According to Tanzanian registrar of pesticides Jonathan Akhabuhaya, a 1998 inventory funded by the Netherlands turned up 905 tons of obsolete pesticides, of which 200 tons were POPs, More than half the containers had no labels.

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