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close this bookObsolete Pesticides - A Dangerous Legacy - Results of a Pilot Project on the Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides (GTZ, 1999, 52 p.)
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View the documentThree Partners - All in One Boat
View the documentMauritania: Responsible Care for the Past

Three Partners - All in One Boat

Mozambique: Industry helps to dispose of toxic waste.

Toxic waste and obsolete pesticides do not just appear overnight. Nor are they the result of any one person’s error or misdeed. Thus, it is only logical for all concerned to cooperate in cleaning up the mess. Successful disposal measures are chiefly characterized by good cooperation between the various actors.

The Pesticide Disposal Project has initiated cooperation with and between a large number of partners, including various governments and nongovernmental organizations, international organizations and the private sector. The span of examples includes cooperation with USAID in the Niger and Morocco, with DANIDA in Mozambique, with Norway’s StrFoundation in Mali, and with the FAO in Ethiopia and Zambia. Shell International Ltd./UK is involved in Madagascar, the Niger and Mauritania, while BASF AG and Bayer AG are active in Mozambique and Pakistan, respectively.

The bottom-line experience has been positive. Since a number of development-cooperation organizations are simultaneously concerned with the pesticides problem, close cooperation is called for as a means of steering the exchange of data and experience. This can help avoid redundancy and, hence, unnecessary expense.

In this connection, GTZ is collaborating with the FAO, which has assumed a coordinating role. With the assistance of GTZ, the FAO’s expert panels have drawn up guidelines for surveys and directives for the disposal of pesticides in large and small quantities. Pesticide Disposal Project staff have represented BMZ at the FAO’s annual government consultations on pesticide disposal and prevention and have taken part in special missions (e.g., Task Force Ethiopia).

An inventory of obsolete pesticides in Africa and the Near East, including the names of products and producers, was published by the FAO in 1996. This caused something of a stir in the pesticides-producing industry, but it also got things going. The Global Crop Protection Federation (GCPF) announced to the FAO that it was prepared to provide both technical and financial assistance to any disposal measures involving products made by its member companies.

This was the result of a long learning process within the industry. As early as the 1970s, the multinational chemical concerns had already been pilloried for their pesticide trade practices with Third World countries. Their pledge to implement the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides is one reaction to that.

The producers are already being held responsible for their products’ past. And in the future, they will have to assume even more responsibility, because more and more people all over the world are becoming aware of such things. Big environmentalist organizations like Greenpeace have also long since gone multinational. Wherever a company decides to do business nowadays, it can expect Greenpeace & Co. to be on the scene. The organization’s international network is very closely knit, and its informal ties with government agencies and supranational organizations are numerous.

Product responsibility accompanies each product through its entire life cycle, from the development, its production and sale to its consumption or disposal. Agenda 21 wants it that way, and the chemical industry has accepted it that way. The key term is Responsible Care, i.e., a global initiative devoted to the promotion of responsible behavior on the part of producers.


Adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Agenda 21 serves as a program of action for practically all development-policy fields of environmental relevance. It is, however, not a legally binding instrument. As such, its implementation remains primarily at the discretion of the various governments.

The following chapters pertain to obsolete pesticides:

Chapter 19 deals with the “environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals, including prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products.”

Chapter 20 describes the “environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, including prevention of illegal international traffic in hazardous wastes.”

Chapter 21 regulates the “environmentally sound management of solid wastes....”

The main points encompass waste avoidance, implementation of the Basel Convention, exchange of information on toxic chemicals and their risks, coordination of international collaboration, upgrading of waste management, and transfer of know-how to developing countries.

This amounts to a public-sector task that calls for regulative international cooperation. In addition, involvement of industry, the research community and nongovernmental organizations is explicitly referred to as desirable and worthy of promotion. Regarding the risks involved, the principle of pollution prevention applies to the entire life cycle of a given chemical. For industry, this equates to responsible care (= product responsibility/liability) and self-initiative in dealing with chemicals.

The Code of Conduct

In 1985 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) adopted the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. In 1989, the code was amended to include the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure.

This is the first agreement in the world that recognizes the joint responsibility of all social groups involved in any process from the production through the use of pesticides. It addresses chiefly governments, trade & industry, and national and international organizations, including nongovernmental organizations.

The code relates to the:

- testing and licensing of pesticides
- regulative and technical requirements for dealing with pesticides
- distribution and sale of pesticides
- information exchange between importing and exporting countries
- labeling, packaging, storage and disposal of residual pesticides
- availability and use of pesticides
- reduction of health hazards

While the relevant standards are only recommendations, several social groups have pledged to adhere to them voluntarily. Germany’s plant protection law, for example, makes adherence to the Code of Conduct imperative. The Global Crop Protection Federation (GCPF) also demands compliance from its members.

Mozambique: Return to sender - a joint operation together with the pesticide producer.

This initiative endeavors to achieve gradual improvement in matters of health, safety and ecology. Responsible Care therefore accompanies a given product not only through its entire life cycle, but also applies to the internal and external communication of any relevant activities.

This is a point of departure for cooperation in cases where the idea is to help - actively as well as financially - eliminate yesterday’s environmental burdens or to implement strategies that will prevent new burdens before they ever occur. While most companies still showed little interest in such things during the 1980s, most of them are now willing to cooperate.

GTZ has had some favorable experiences in connection with cooperative forms of disposal. Time and again there were large amounts of dieldrin to be disposed of, and Shell International Ltd. was once the sole manufacturer of that pesticide. While the company did discontinue its production and sale during the 1980s, it nevertheless has provided both know-how and funding for projects in the Niger, Madagascar and Mauritania - all in the sense of responsible care.

Such active involvement is rendered all the more interesting by the fact that Shell sold its entire pesticides business in the early 1990s and has not even been a member of the pesticide producers’ association GCPF since that time. As a former producer, however, Shell does still cooperate with GCPF whenever there is a real need for responsible-care action.

Such cases could become increasingly frequent. According to Shell’s own estimates, developing nations still have more than 1,000 tons of dieldrin in store. Shell, however, has undertaken to cooperate with qualified organizations in safely disposing of all remaining stocks of the erstwhile best seller in Third World countries.

GTZ has had positive experiences with other companies, too: in Pakistan, for example, from where there came an inquiry about how to dispose of some 60 tons of gusathion in Peshawar. Pakistani authorities purchased the pesticide about 20 years ago. The first leaky drums were replaced about a decade ago.

While the solution had been transferred from its original drums to new ones, no labels had been added or transferred, so it was no longer possible to clearly identify the manufacturer. Soon after that, the gusathion began to decompose, and the drums came close to bursting. An awful stench emanated from the storage site, wafting over into a densely populated part of Peshawar. The local authorities requested GTZ assistance. Since the Pesticide Disposal Project was able to provide know-how but no funding, it appeared logical to contact the original patent holder.

Bayer AG affirmed its willingness to collaborate with GTZ. Even if it should turn out that the pesticide was not a Bayer product, the company nevertheless wanted to help alleviate the acute hazard. Moreover, GTZ and Bayer had already accumulated some common experience in the form of pretrials for the DNOC disposal scheme. In the meantime, the gusathion has been filled into new shipping containers and will soon be taken to England for disposal.

Seventy-three tons of formulating additives and agro-chemicals from an erstwhile BASF production facility in Mozambique were also successfully disposed of. BASF AG burned the waste at its own cost in a hazardous waste incinerator at the BASF plant in Ludwigshafen.

Thus, coming to terms with the past sometimes even provides impetus for shaping a better future. The money that GTZ saved through the industry’s involvement is working to Pakistan’s benefit, i.e., the funds are being used to pay for preventive measures: pesticide management is being improved, and some weak points of storage and handling eliminated. This amounts to a major contribution toward the future avoidance of new baseline pollution.

Mauritania: Specially trained local personnel pump the contents of the drums into 24,000-liter shipping containers.

Mauritania: Mobile drum press in action.

Mauritania: Responsible Care for the Past

Mauritania: More than 200,000 liters of dieldrin had to be dealt with.

The quantities involved were as huge as the costs incurred, but the project partners, who had worked with each other before, soon had everything under control. GTZ and Shell International Ltd. had already engaged in a number of common-cause activities in connection with dieldrin. Here, in Mauritania, more than 200,000 liters of it had to be dealt with.

To make things worse, the pesticide had been lying around in store for many years in rusty old drums. At one point or another, the product had been redrummed, but the new drums eventually corroded too, and the next transfer was due. In the end, not only the numerous drums of dieldrin, but piles of old pesticide containers had to be disposed of as well.

The organochlorine compound was supplied to the government of Mauritania many years ago, mainly by FAO and other UN organizations. This West African country’s national plant protection service Direction du Dloppement des Ressources Agropastorales (DDRAP), in cooperation with various international organizations, is responsible for the control of locusts. Two-thirds of Mauritania’s land area (south of the Sahara!) is conducive to the spread of locusts. Consequently, storage sites were set up at strategic locations and filled with large quantities of insecticides - just in case.

But some years practically no locusts appeared, and no dieldrin was needed. Eventually, the agent’s toxic properties and high persistence generated public debate, and pressure exerted by environmental associations and development organizations reduced its application to a bare minimum. Finally, Shell stopped producing dieldrin, and the pesticide disappeared from the market.

It did not, however, disappear from the African storage sites. The next time locusts plagued the land, other, less persistent agents were employed, and the old dieldrin remained in store. Mauritania has no means of incinerating or otherwise disposing of such large quantities of pesticides, so the drums just kept rusting away. Eventually, they became so porous with corrosion that dieldrin dribbled out and contaminated the surrounding soil, as attested to by numerous dark stains. Even worse, however, was the fact that it threatened to contaminate the only potable-water well in the entire area.

At the same time, hundreds of empty drums stemming from prior campaigns had been left behind - dirty and unattended - at a collecting point near the harbor of Mauritania’s capital city Nouakchott, with children scampering around between them.

Consequently, in 1995, the government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania contacted the Federal Republic of Germany and requested assistance for disposing of the dieldrin and the empty containers. BMZ directed GTZ to cooperate with the Mauritanian partner DDRAP, as the owner of the pesticide.

DDRAP provided transport vehicles and personnel for the hardest part of the work. GTZ provided the know-how and the requisite equipment. Shell, as the original producer of the dieldrin, also joined in and cooperated in response to an inquiry by GTZ. With reference to its own product responsibility and to the chemical industry’s Responsible Care idea, Shell offered to:

- assume the entire cost of transportation and incineration and
- assign an in-house expert as resource person.

Mauritania: Redrumming of more than 28,000 l of dieldrin.

First of all, safeguarding measures had to be taken in order to alleviate the acute danger of groundwater contamination around the desert storage site at Ayoun al Atrous. This included the redrumming of more than 28,000 liters of dieldrin, because some of the old drums had already sprung leaks.

That bought enough time to properly address the main problem. However, before any technical solution could be implemented, Mauritania had to sign the Basel Convention. Otherwise, it might have taken years to get the dieldrin shipped back to the Netherlands. And so it only took until the late summer of 1996 for work to begin.

The old dieldrin had to be collected at five different storage sites in various parts of the country. First, the dilapidated drums were packed into overdrums, which are very robust and designed to retain leakage. In time, all the drums were transferred by truck over dirt roads to a guarded storage area near the capital city of Nouakchott. There, specially trained local personnel pumped the contents of the drums into specially designed isotanks (24,000-liter shipping containers). The old drums were cleaned, pressed flat, and loaded onto the ship for transfer to the Netherlands.

A commercial waste-disposal enterprise, the Dutch company AVR Chemie B.V., was entrusted with transferring the waste to the Netherlands and burning all 220 tons (175 tons of dieldrin and more than 44 tons of contaminated drums) in a hazardous waste incinerator.

Of the roughly DM 1 million that had to be spent on the venture, Shell paid upwards of DM 565,000. People who do good usually like to talk about it. That being so, Shell is calling attention to another useful effect of its contribution: Thanks to this noble gesture, the German government saved lots of money that can now be used for funding preventive measures in Mauritania.