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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

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.