Pesticide firms seek Ethiopia toxic dumps audit
ROME - An international pesticides industry group has asked Ethiopia for permission to audit obsolete pesticide dumps in the country to assess its share of the cost of disposing of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste.
The Global Crop Protection Federation (GCPF), which represents about 90 percent of the industry, has written to Ethiopian Deputy Agriculture Minister Belay Ejigu, seeking permission to help check labels and markings on containers.
The U.N. estimates that more than 2,800 tonnes of obsolete pesticides have accumulated at 949 sites across Ethiopia, threatening the health of thousands of people and contaminating the environment. Belay has called the dumps "a time bomb".
"GCPF member companies are committed to contributing financially to the disposal of those products that they originally manufactured or supplied," said the letter, made available to Reuters and dated May 11, 2001.
"The process of verification is required in order to confirm that the products...were indeed supplied by GCPF companies and are not of other sources," added the letter from Christian Verschueren, director-general of the Brussels-based body.
"Once our member companies are given the opportunity for verification, they will be in a position to make a formal offer for their voluntary financial contribution."
GCPFs members include Aventis CropScience, BASF, Bayer, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta.
GCPF and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which is supervising removal of the waste, are struggling to coordinate their efforts, the letter said.
"In early April we proposed that advantage should be taken of a FAO-organised donor meeting on obsolete pesticides in Rome to bring together the key players to discuss how to proceed," it said.
"Unfortunately FAO were unable to accommodate this proposal and we have therefore asked the (FAO) project manager what opportunities industry will have to carry out this verification. The response to date is not encouraging."
Asked to comment on the letter, FAO said that GCPF had received the data required to trace back obsolete pesticide products and identify their producers.
"FAO urges GCPF to appoint a focal point for the Ethiopian project in order to liaise with the government and FAO and facilitate communication," FAO said in a statement to Reuters.
"Furthermore, what is urgently needed, is a clear commitment from GCPF that for every kilo of waste originating from one of its members, a contribution of one U.S. dollar will be made."
GCPF WANTS WASTE REMOVED
The GCPF, which has so far made no financial contribution to dispose of the toxic waste from Ethiopia, said it wanted to see the material removed safely as quickly as possible and to work with Ethiopia to ensure that obsolete stocks do not occur again.
A pesticide industry source said that the GCPF had a working assumption that its member companies had supplied some 600 tonnes of the pesticide waste in Ethiopia.
A clean-up operation by a Finnish hazardous waste treatment company Ekokem began last month in Ethiopia.
Donations by the U.S., Dutch and Swedish governments are enough to dispose of 1,500 tonnes, but there have been no pledges so far to cover the removal of the remainder.
Pesticides usually have an expiry date of two years after manufacture. Yet waste has accumulated in Ethiopia over more than 30 years, Ethiopian and FAO officials said.
Last month FAO officials joined by a Reuters correspondent visited Ethiopia, where they found metal drums leaking toxic waste at obsolete pesticide dumps in residential areas.
Ethiopian and FAO officials say the build-up is due to bad management of pesticide deliveries by the government and donors, and unscrupulous marketing by the chemicals industry of pesticides that were in many cases not needed.
The problem of obsolete pesticide waste is not restricted to Ethiopia. FAO estimates that more than 500,000 tonnes of ageing pesticide waste are seriously threatening the health of millions of people and the environment in nearly all developing nations.
Story by David Brough
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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