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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.)
close this folderChapter 4
View the documentClassy Solutions to Classical Problems
View the documentPakistan: Disposal for Third Parties

Classy Solutions to Classical Problems

Madagascar: From lorry to ship and back to Europe - return to sender is the most common method of disposal. (1)

Madagascar: From lorry to ship and back to Europe - return to sender is the most common method of disposal. (2)

Madagascar: From lorry to ship and back to Europe - return to sender is the most common method of disposal. (3)

Few waste disposal techniques actually satisfy the goals of - and stringent legal requirements for - the environmentally sound disposal of hazardous waste. Suitable waste disposal facilities are few and far between, particularly in developing countries, many of which have none at all. Among experts, the incineration of pesticides at temperatures above 1,000°C in special high-temperature incinerators is viewed as the presently most economical and environmentally sound form of waste management.

While diverse research institutions in industrialized countries are investigating new methods of disposal, each of them tends to be focused on certain specific problems, usually on a small scale. Such methods are only of conditional value for developing countries, where large quantities of obsolete pesticides and baseline pollution are in need of disposal. Often, the waste in question does not consist of pure substances but of mixtures made up of several substances that are no longer individually identifiable. In almost all cases, there are also contaminated containers, canisters, pallets and soil to be dealt with.

For these reasons, no single technique can be recommended. Each new case requires new reflections and new decisions.

In earlier times, for lack of suitable facilities, proper disposal in developing countries was a rare occurrence. In fact, that is basically the case even now. Frequently, the only solution is to take the pesticides to an OECD country for destruction in a dedicated high-temperature incinerator. Such consignments could well carry the stamp “Return to Sender”, because it was the industrialized world that sent the pesticides to the developing countries in the first place. This is seen as the “classical” or traditional disposal route.

Bad Disposal Options

The following options are unsuitable for the disposal of obsolete pesticides:

- landfilling
- land burial
- deep-well injection
- solar evaporation
- land application

- controlled burning

On the other hand, it also amounts to a risky, expensive business. It involves huge inputs, beginning with the tendering procedure, for there are very few disposal enterprises that are really focused on the special situation of developing countries.

Time and again, the administrative scope is direly underestimated. The Basel Convention and the EU directives pertaining to the transboundary movement of waste have, in principle, created effective instruments with which to prevent “waste tourism”. This, in turn, presents other problems: The original intent was to put a stop to the cheap disposal of hazardous waste from industrialized countries in the Third World. That has met with only partial success. Indeed, these same rules often effectively hamper the reverse route, too: No matter how they originally acquired the hazardous waste, developing countries and those charged with their waste disposal encounter substantial bureaucratic obstacles in trying to get toxic waste out of the country.


Disposal parameters

The cost of toxic waste disposal, and the procedures to be employed, depend on a number of parameters.

Liquid waste is the easiest to handle. It can be delivered to the disposal facility in drums or large tanks. The analysis and interim storage of waste in large tanks are less complicated and, hence, less expensive. In such tanks, the waste can be mixed with other liquids and adjusted to a certain energy level, as required for continuous operation of the combustion plant (incinerator). Moreover, the incineration of liquid waste produces little, if any, residue.

Solid and pasty products, though, require pre-incineration conditioning. Many such products consist of inhomogeneous substances that are difficult to analyze. Solid waste requires homogenization or shredding, plus transfer to a suitable container, prior to its introduction into the combustion chamber. Solid and pasty forms of waste produce more ashes. That, in turn, incurs landfilling fees and, hence, makes the overall disposal operation more expensive.

The combustion gases produced by waste containing substantial amounts of halogens, phosphorus and sulfur require scrubbing to avoid the emission of acetic gases and to preclude formation of dioxins and dioxylfuranes. Such measures are also very expensive and must be accounted for in the final price.

One crucial factor is how the waste is packaged. If it comes in large tanks, a brief analysis will suffice to confirm the tank’s contents. If, however, it arrives in small, unlabeled drums, extensive analysis will be required to avoid unnecessary risks during subsequent treatment of the waste. That, of course, is a considerable expense factor. Drums, too, have to be individually examined and treated as solid waste when they are empty, because the residual deposits are very difficult to remove.

Mauritania: The crushed drums were also sent back for disposal.

Nevertheless, as long as the country in question has no reasonable domestic alternatives, this remains the only possibility. Moreover, the industrialized countries carry a special measure of responsibility in connection with pesticides, for it was they who in one way or another were involved in the supply of most pesticides in the first place. The special incinerators are located there, as are the producers of the subject substances, i.e., the keepers of the product-specific know-how.

For that reason alone, the producers should be involved in disposal planning from the very start. Indeed, the producers’ commitment has waxed significantly in recent years (cf. section 6). If industry were made to systematically share in the expenses of disposal, this would mean a tangible disburdenment of public-sector development assistance. After all, it costs between US $ 2,500 and US $ 4,500 per ton to return pesticide waste to an industrialized country. This covers the cost of everything from stocktaking to the actual incineration.

It would, of course, be disastrous to adopt unsuitable methods in order to save money. Hasty activism can cause serious damage that would cost even more to fix afterwards. Certainly, the problem cannot be solved by simply burying or burning the pesticides.

Nor is there any reason to act prematurely if the potential risks are systematically assessed. Immediate hazards to human health or the environment can be warded off by initial remedial measures, perhaps even the mere refilling of chemicals into new containers. This will always buy enough time for subsequent well-planned forms of disposal.

This could include returning the waste to its country of origin, if that is the only possibility.

Pakistan has accumulated one of the world’s largest stockpiles of obsolete pesticides.


Step by step: From identification to evaluation.

Pakistan: Disposal for Third Parties

Pakistan: A high-risk store is situated right in the middle of Lahore’s Old Town.

Since 1980 huge quantities of pesticides have been accumulating in Pakistan. By now, that Southern Asian country has amassed one of the world’s largest stockpiles of obsolete pesticides. The process of accumulation began when the government halted its prior policy: suddenly, except in Baluchistan, no more free aerial spraying of pesticides was to be provided, i.e., the private sector was, as of immediately, on its own with regard to the distribution of pesticides.

Due to that change in policy, the pesticides in stock in the government-operated stores were no longer given to the farmers free of charge, but instead “stayed put”. With increasing age, they became as unsuitable for sale as for further use. No transition period was provided, during which the existing stocks could have been used up.

According to an inventory based on lists drawn up in 1987, there are an estimated 5,000 tons of pesticides, all told, at the country’s 700 storage sites. These stocks represent a broad range of formulations, mainly insecticides belonging to the organochlorine and organophosphorus group of compounds, in addition to dithiocarbamates. Due to some of the substances’ high acute toxicity and lack of suitable storage conditions, people and the environment in the vicinity of these storage sites are at jeopardy. Consequently, several attempts have been made during the past decade to alleviate the problem.

Following a limited survey, USAID and the government of Pakistan took initial disposal action in 1987. The idea was to incinerate the pesticides at a cement factory in the Punjab. Several pretrial runs were conducted, but disagreements about safety and the environment led to the project’s eventual failure.

In 1993 the government of the Punjab started another attempt to dispose of the obsolete pesticides, this time by simply burying them in the desert somewhere in the southern part of the country. However, public protest forced the government to discontinue the scheme. The pesticides were returned to the more than 100 storage sites whence they came, and where the entire bulk now remains.

Then, in 1996, a new actor appeared on the scene in the form of the Dutch embassy in Islamabad. Having heard about the dilemma, the Dutch launched an initial survey, charging the GTZ Pesticide Disposal Project with its implementation.

In November 1997 a team of experts investigated 15 storage sites in the provinces of Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan. They counted the stored quantities and took samples for analysis at the GTZ laboratory in Germany. They documented the condition of the stores and packages as a basis for risk assessment and, hence, drafted a strategy for disposal of the pesticides.

Most of the store buildings were found to be in dilapidated condition, with broken roofs and unsealed floors. The interiors of the store buildings were found to be in such disarray that it was hardly possible to determine the stored quantities with any degree of accuracy. Nowhere were the pesticides stored in anywhere near the manner deemed necessary for highly toxic chemicals; indeed, they obviously had simply been tossed into the buildings, as indicated by the demolished packages, with leaks having contaminated the ground to an as yet undetermined extent.

The worst and most dangerous of all the storage sites is the one situated right in the middle of Lahore’s very densely populated Old Town. Children in particular are constantly exposed to poisonous vapors and dust from the pesticides. Some of the inspected stores contain large amounts of various agents, including some highly toxic ones, all devoid of safeguards and freely accessible.

Pakistan: Classification of pesticide stocks according to an inventory.

The completed inventory of those 15 stores showed a total of at least 477 tons of obsolete pesticides, only 112 tons of which were still traceable (to 23 different manufacturers). Nearly a third had been produced or formulated in Pakistan. Thus, 16% of the overall quantity correlates to 21 international producers.

A total of 150 samples were taken, representing 336 tons of pesticides. Subsequent analysis revealed the presence of several hundred different formulations in the stores, with more than 45 different active ingredients. Most of the substances are insecticides. In addition to some marginally hazardous products, there are also some highly toxic ones, including a group of pesticides that have since been banned. Many of them are persistent organic compounds, and some of them can be found on the PIC list.

To be sure, as bad as these results of stocktaking appear to be, they can only convey a weak impression of the problem’s full dimension. Note, for example, that the Punjab alone has more than 100 chemical storage sites in addition to the 15 that were surveyed. But then, it is not just the sheer volume that is frightening. The general condition of the storage sites, in combination with an apparently somewhat carefree manner of dealing with such extremely toxic agents, has created a highly risky situation. It is therefore urgently necessary to take immediate measures for reducing the human health hazard.

It would not suffice to merely clear out these stores. Since the other ones may well be in similarly bad condition, the breadth of activity will have to be expanded. Of course, capacity bottlenecks could occur quickly, considering the quantities involved.

How, then, to approach the problem? Naturally, the waste material from the inspected stores in the Punjab could be taken out of the country for disposal according to OECD standards. That, however, would probably be so expensive as to exceed the available financial limits. In addition, this approach would void the chance to help build up the country’s own capacities.

Thus, the best thing to do in any case, even if the most hazardous stores were to be neutralized by exporting their contents, would be to clear out the other ones with the aid of local labor. This would give the Pakistani plant protectors a chance to learn how to handle such waste and, above all, to set up and operate pesticide storage facilities in a future-oriented manner.

Proceeding on this basis, one could even give concrete consideration to the possibility of expanding the surveys and collecting information about possible locations and facilities in Pakistan where disposal could be effected. This would involve genuine development-policy elements: along with the local disposal infrastructure, awareness of the problem would also grow - as would a lot of know-how that would help the local authorities make progress in their work.