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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 3
View the documentHow to Gain Insight
View the documentAlbania: Sidetracked Pesticides
View the documentMozambique: A Civil-War Legacy

How to Gain Insight

Zambia: Sampling and analysis of potable water constitute an integral part of surveys and risk assessments.

As long as the scale of a problem is unknown, the problem cannot be solved. Consequently, the first step of any remedial measure must consist of stocktaking in the form of an inventory. Two different kinds of data are gathered according to a standardized method. One set of data pertains to the condition of the store itself, and the other documents that of the store’s contents. Together, these data illustrate the scale of the problem. Supplementary photographic documentation is advisable.

Information about the general condition and infrastructure of the store must be gathered, and the ownership / possessory situation, the workers’ level of training, the location and size of the site and/or buildings must all be clarified. Important aspects include the store’s proximity to open waters or residential areas; rain percolation potential; and soil contamination. The quantities of pesticides currently in storage must be determined and the condition of their containers ascertained. Their contents have to be estimated, sampled and compared with the inventory lists. Any site that is confusingly organized or complicated in structure will require the drafting of supplementary site plans showing the exact locations of the individual products.

With the inventory serving as a reference framework, the reason(s) why the products were not consumed should be inquired into. This will yield information about where preventive measures need to be taken.

The data aggregate should be as precise as possible, for it will have to serve as a decision-making basis. A simple rough estimate of stocks on hand, or the incomplete identification of the store’s contents, can be extremely hindersome, both in the technical-administrative and in the financial sense. For example, a decision in favor of a particular avenue of disposal and a specification of required material (drums, pumps, protective equipment, etc.) will all depend on which substances are involved.

The Chemical Store Inventory

By definition, the inventory must cover:

- potentially obsolete stocks, i.e., products that were shelved more than two years previously;

- products which by force of law are no longer permitted for use, and/or substances, the use of which FAO no longer recommends;

- information concerning the products’ origins and ownership;

- unknown products;

- the respective containers;

- information about the condition and infrastructure of the site.

The data aggregate and the chemicophysical analyses of samples are obtained/conducted according to standardized methods in certified analytical laboratories. Once the material has been evaluated, the products can be quantified according to fitness for use or need for disposal. The task scope also includes an immediate assessment of potential risks and a calculation of how expensive follow-up measures will be.

Commercial waste-management companies require facts and figures upon which to base their proposals. Any operation in which such substances are hauled across country or shipped by water constitutes a hazardous-material transport, for which accompanying documents are required. These documents must, for safety reasons, define and declare the exact nature of the waste. Moreover, potential donors are more likely to become involved if they needn’t fear unpleasant surprises.

All this speaks in favor of a very carefully executed survey. There is no getting around a reconnaissance visit to the site. No one should attempt to gather information by way of questionnaires or by touring a “representative number” of sites and then drawing conclusions about the others.

Two Data Aggregates Equal One Inventory

Pesticide data

Site data

Types and quantities of pesticides

Inspection of site and suspicious areas

Types, quantities and condition of containers and their labeling

Abbreviated history of the site and its present/future use

Sampling, chemical and physical analysis

Sampling (soil, air, water), chemical analysis

Origin and reason for nonuse

Geological and hydrological situation



If no countrywide survey can be made all at once, it will have to be attended to in multiple steps that begin in one region and gradually expand to encompass additional regions.

The size of the country, the number of sites, and the distances between them - as well as the available budget - decide the size of the team. Ideally, a team should consist of three persons, usually headed by a chemist, who survey all the storage areas together. This ensures uniform procedures, both in filling out the survey sheets and in connection with sampling, thus minimizing the error rate. If such an ideal methodical approach cannot be taken, several teams will have to work simultaneously in various parts of the country.

Theoretical and practical training familiarizes all members of the team with the objectives of their endeavors and with the field environment of data capture and sampling. Effective personal protective equipment and adequate instruction in work safety are of particular importance, since it can be dangerous to even enter such a site. Thus, all members of all teams must know exactly how to protect themselves and what to do in an emergency.

Upon completion of the survey, the data aggregate has to be analyzed, particularly with respect to what should be done with the remaining stock. The chemicophysical analyses are a major factor in this respect. Normally, the agents are both qualitatively and quantitatively defined and the quality of formulation determined, because the active agent in a pesticide that has been in store for a long time may still range within tolerance, while the pesticide itself has become unfit for use, because its formulation no longer meets requirements.

Zambia: Taking soil samples is essential for risk assessment. (1)

Zambia: Taking soil samples is essential for risk assessment. (2)

Thus, the results of analysis dictate what has to be disposed of, if anything. The basic principle reads: As-intended use is the best form of disposal.

That is not to be deemed a simple frame of action; it is more like the project’s philosophy. It is one thing to view old, perhaps unidentified products primarily as potential waste, and it is something entirely different to see them as potentially useful products, once they have been repackaged and provided with new labels. Consequently, all sizable batches of inventoried products are sampled as a matter of principle.

This is only natural for unlabeled products of unknown composition and for products of doubtful quality. Even products which definitely are not supposed to be destroyed, no matter what their quality, have to be sampled and analyzed in order to confirm their identity.

To use or not to use; to destroy or not to destroy - all the project can do is make recommendations, while the final decision remains with the responsible authorities in the partner country. Once that decision has been made, however, priorities fall into place. Consequently, the survey must include a risk assessment based on the topical results of inspection and data capture.

If that assessment reveals acute risks for the local environment or for people living near the site, the necessary safety measures must be initiated at once. For example, this would be the case if escaping pesticides were posing an immediate threat to the soil or groundwater. Even refilling the material into used containers can amount to a very effective initial measure. Old oil or pesticide drums that can later be replaced with the requisite shipping containers are good enough for that purpose.

Zambia: Immediate action is necessary before the rainy season starts.

Additional safeguards include protection of the store against the effects of weather, unauthorized access and theft. Other immediate threats can be countered by liquidating uncontrolled pesticide dumps/storage sites in the vicinity of residential areas and transferring the waste to a suitable interim storage area.

Such measures gain time, and experience shows that time is valuable: Frequently, it can take up to two years before a particular disposal option is decided on, its funding assured, and the administrative prerequisites created.

An evaluation of the inspection findings and an analysis of the aggregate information determine the course of the disposal measure. The question of where the greatest risk for people and the environment is located constitutes a central criterion.

The risk is defined by the (potential) extent of damage and by the probability of that damage actually occurring: The more toxic and mobile an agent is, and the greater the likelihood that humans, animals and their environment will be contaminated, e.g., by the effects of leaky containers, the greater the risk.

Thus, product-specific parameters like toxicity, solubility and flammability have to be referred back to the conditions of storage. This yields a risk-potential-based priority sequence for the cleanup of pesticide storage sites.


A pesticide is obsolete if:

- its use is prohibited in the country in question;

- its use cannot be recommended due to health hazards or imperilment of the environment;

- it no longer satisfies minimum quality requirements (FAO tolerance guidelines for formulated pesticide products).

Albania: Sidetracked Pesticides

In the Balkans, the project encountered some German-German peculiarities: During Albania’s political transition period in 1991 and 1992, the government received a “gift” of more than 460 tons of plant protection products from a German company. The pesticides stemmed from old GDR stocks. As an investigation by the Hanover public prosecutor’s office later confirmed, this was all very legal.

The new government in Tirana requested of the German government in 1992 that the pesticides be taken back, because Albania did not need them.

So, in the summer of 1993, a mixed delegation of experts acting on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety traveled to Albania to investigate the situation and conduct an inventory. The team was also supposed to explore the options for disposing of the pesticides in Albania. The delegation inspected five sites and a “German State Railroad train”, the latter containing 217 tons of pesticides. The inspection revealed no considerable differences between the officially stated quantities and those actually found. Some 375 tons of pesticides were sampled, but another 85 tons in all were stored in lesser amounts at numerous small stores, only two of which could be visited because of the team’s tight schedule.

The experts’ attention soon centered on the “German State Railroad train” at the Bajze border station. Seventeen goods wagons were found parked on a hill at the Montenegrin border station, a mere 3 km from Shkodra Lake, and there was no way to move them. Due to the embargo, the rail connection to Montenegro was closed, and violent storms had destroyed the upcountry tracks.

The cars were full of pesticides in total disorder - and in flagrant disregard of valid international regulations governing the rail transport of hazardous goods. Every sheet steel drum in the entire train was rusty, and large, black stains underneath the cars attested to leakage. Seven tons of delicia emulsion were found in simple 25-liter demi-johns with no more protection against breakage than ordinary wicker jackets like those used on most cider jugs. Delicia emulsion contains 50% camphechlor (technically chlorinated camphene - toxaphene), dissolved in petroleum. Any breakage not only would probably have killed the fish in the nearby lake, but also caused a fire that soon would have spread to engulf the rest of the train, as well.

Chemicophysical analysis of the samples showed that there were 43 different products with 40 different active ingredients on the train. Eleven of those pesticides were either fully prohibited or strictly limited for use by European Union directives. Twelve of the products had been approved for use in the GDR, but not in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Their application was only permissible during a transition period that would terminate at the end of 1994, as dictated by Germany’s reunification agreement. For a few products, the experts recommended further use, but Albania refused: Following privatization of the country’s state-owned farms, the average size of an Albanian farm had shrunk to 1.5 hectares. The rate of pesticide consumption declined drastically, due in part to the unreliable price structure for agricultural produce. Thus, the containers were too large for the potential new users, who were also unfamiliar with most of the pesticides. Consequently, the experts recommended that the train’s entire inventory be safeguarded without delay and transferred to Germany for destruction, because Albania had no suitable disposal facilities.

Albania: The railway wagons were full of pesticides.

The Albanian government’s insistence that the pesticides be returned to Germany, plus the symbolic redemption of one ton by Greenpeace, turned the old waste into an expanding political affair. Finally, in 1994, the pesticides were taken to Germany and disposed of - at a cost of DM 7 million.

The delegation made revealing discoveries at other sites, too. In addition to leaky drums and burst bags, they found large quantities of new, perfectly well-packaged plant protection products that had been brought into the country after 1991 by the European Union (EU), the World Bank and diverse manufacturers. These agents, the delegation found, had been put in store and never used. If this is allowed to run its course, the next candidates for disposal are already in the offing.

Mozambique: A Civil-War Legacy

Mozambique: Redrumming is a first step to prepare leaky drums for transport.

Through most of the 1990s this southern African country remained a focus of interest. The project’s first local encounter with obsolete pesticides there was in 1992, when hundreds of empty containers were found stacked in a closed-down Shell pesticide formulating plant, along with 70,000 liters of azodrine/DDT and 80-plus tons of contaminated soil, all in metal drums.

And this was only an interim storage site. In September 1990, namely, Shell International Ltd. had undertaken a safeguarding and cleanup operation, in the course of which the agents had been filled into new drums and stored in old containers on the premises of the Maputo formulating plant. Before that, they had spent at least 15 years at the government-operated pesticides depot in Beira. The operation was necessary, because the insecticide was threatening to dribble into the Bay of Beira and wipe out its entire fish stock.

At the request of Mozambique, the German government helped dispose of the waste. As it became apparent that the azodrine/DDT in question was not the only unwanted stock of plant protectants in Mozambique, the project expanded its activities to include a countrywide survey.

In early November 1994 the last containers full of obsolete azodrine/DDT, contaminated soil, pallets and drums arrived in Great Britain for incineration. By then, Mozambique had already embarked on a national inventory of obsolete pesticides. The survey, which took from August 1994 until March 1995, uncovered 610 different batches of pesticides at 41 sites scattered over the country, with a total volume of 510 tons of pesticides comprising 215 different formulations. Some 175 samples were sent to the GTZ laboratory in Germany for analysis in order to ascertain which of the stocks were obsolete and which could still be used. Just under half (49%) of the samples were found to be unfit for use.

The decisions were based on the 1987 Plant Protection Law, in which the Mozambican government had prohibited the use of 68 different active ingredients. The ban applied to 28% of the obsolete pesticides, most of which consisted of organochlorine compounds, with the remainder comprising mercury compounds. Their application is also prohibited by EU law.

Most of the other 180 tons of pesticides were older than 10 years. Chemicophysical analysis showed that they no longer satisfied the applicable minimum quality requirements. Thus, they could not be recommended for use. To be precise, 34% of the substances were older than ten years, and the age of 41% was no longer ascertainable.

How could this happen? Subsequent inquiries revealed that large amounts of organochlorine compounds were still being imported in the mid-1980s, despite the fact that the industrialized countries already had banned their use during the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, when the Mozambican government prohibited their further application and importation, the pesticides automatically became obsolete.

Apparently, the demand for some of the other agents had been overestimated. The lengthy civil war had done its part by causing a downturn in agricultural production. While 1,536 tons of pesticides were imported in 1987, that volume had dropped to 221 tons by 1989.

Mozambique’s countrywide inventory

Number of sites



Total identified quantity

510 t

Number of active ingredients


Number of identified batches


Obsolete pesticides

249 t

liquid-state formulations

144 t

solid-state formulations

105 t

Still-useful pesticides

261 t

liquid-state formulations

159 t

solid-state formulations

102 t

Contaminated empty containers



The examiners also discovered various inventory control and management deficiencies. Even after years of storage, many of the products could still have been in good condition, had they only been properly kept. However, not even half of the still serviceable pesticides were found to be in irreproachable containers, not to mention the condition of the storage rooms. The labels on half of the products were either missing or had become illegible. After such a long time, it was not possible to determine when the defects occurred and how much of the problem was attributable to the civil war.

The results of the survey not only form the basis of the disposal measures that the competent authorities in Mozambique want to take in cooperation with the Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA). They also provide valuable information on how to avoid such problems in the future. The Mozambican government apparently had attempted to rectify some of the weak points. For example, with Danish assistance, the government was working to implement the plant protection laws dating from 1987. For several years now, Mozambique also has been practicing PIC procedures and has banned the import of certain pesticides. Thus, another scenario like that involving the chlorinated hydrocarbons should not recur.

Representatives of the Mozambican plant protection service have taken part in GTZ-sponsored qualification training for the storage - and transport-management disciplines. In the future, proper storage procedures should be able to prevent loss of pesticide quality and attendant hazards for people and the environment.

The Mozambican procurement system was modified in 1988/89. Since then, pesticides are being imported only on order and pursuant to competitive bidding. If the system is now able to guarantee demand-appropriate procurement at fair-market prices, the conversion will have been successful.

To be sure, some questions remain: Since 1994 various donors have been investing in agricultural reconstruction programs - the World Bank in cotton production, the African Development Bank in cashew nut production, and the African Development Fund in sugar production. The extent to which pesticides will be supplied within the scope of such programs, and how much consumption monitoring will be engaged in, remain to be seen.