Huge pile of toxic pesticide DDT removed after 37-year in Ctg
The world’s largest remaining stockpile of banned pesticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), left in Chattogram city for 37 years, has finally been removed.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has supported the government to dispose of the DDT safely and to clean up the storage site in a complex international operation. The final batch of repackaged DDT will be loaded onto a ship later this week and then the entire consignment will set sail for France where the waste will be incinerated at a specialist facility in the country.
To mark the completion of the DDT removal operation, a closing event was held on Wednesday at Radisson Blu.
Ministry of Shipping secretary Md. Mostafa Kamal was present as the chief guest at the event while Chattogram Divisional Commissioner Md Ashraf Uddin was guest of honor with Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change secretary Dr. Farhina Ahmed in the chair.
Ministry of Environment Forest additional Secretary Sanjay Kumar Bhowmik and Department of Environment director general Dr Abdul Hamid were present as the special guests at the event.
Bangladesh imported 500 metric tonnes of the pesticide in 1985 to control malaria-carrying mosquitos but the consignment was deemed technically non-compliant. Upon arrival it was put into a government compound, the Medical Sub-Depot (MSD) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), in the Agrabad area in port city. Over the years, many of the boxes and bags disintegrated leaving exposed piles of the white DDT powder. In 1991 Bangladesh imposed a DDT ban but the huge consignment remained.
FAO consultant Mark Davis, an expert on obsolete pesticides, described the legacy DDT as ‘highly unusual’. “This is the largest amount of the pesticide removed from a single location that I’m aware of. It’s also highly unusual in that it was stored in the middle of a city and because it was there for so long.”
Since DDT does not break down, the consignment has exactly the same concentration of active ingredient today as it did when it was manufactured. DDT is toxic to humans and other organisms. It harms fertility and reproductive processes, disrupts hormonal systems, and is a probable carcinogen. As a persistent organic pollutant (POP), it accumulates in the bodies of humans and animals, as well as the wider environment.
Due to the urban location, special precautions were taken to ensure that the DDT removal operation did not create dust. The buildings were sealed and operated under negative air pressure to ensure that everything stayed inside. Expert Mark Davis, who oversaw the operation, stressed the high safety standards of the removal and clean-up. “This is a large quantity of a dangerous substance stored in an urban environment. Our operation applied all necessary measures to ensure that nobody was exposed and that none of the chemical spread in the environment. The safety standards applied were the same as they would have been in Europe.”
Under the supervision of FAO experts and Government of Bangladesh officials, a specialist company based in Greece took four months to complete the repacking of the DDT at the site. In the hot and humid conditions, trained workers wearing full hazardous material protective suits worked alongside specialist machinery. In some situations, they had to hand-shovel the DDT because it was unsafe to use machinery inside the building. The DDT was loaded into high-specification, UN-approved chemical containers that were then loaded onto 24 shipping containers.
Removal of DDT is highly technical and bound by international laws, rules and regulations. Fourteen countries had to give their permission for the ship carrying the waste to transit through their territorial waters, namely Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Malta, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, plus France. France is one of only a handful of countries that has the capacity to dispose of DDT safely and also allows the import of hazardous waste from other countries.
The work was undertaken by FAO’s Pesticide Risk Reduction in Bangladesh project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and co-financed by the Government of Bangladesh and FAO. FAO designed the operation based on extensive experience and expertise as part of an overall mission to remove all obsolete pesticides from Bangladesh. Externally funded disposal operations of this nature are unlikely to be repeated and it is important that national capacity is developed to deal with hazardous waste from all sectors, including agriculture, health, industry, and transport. As part of this drive, FAO has provided technical training to officials from the Department of Environment to deal with hazardous waste.
Robert D. Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh, said: “FAO is very pleased to have assisted the Government of Bangladesh to finally deal with this long-running problem that was unfortunately not resolved much sooner. DDT has no place for use in controlling malaria or in modern agriculture.” He added: “The removal of the DDT after such a long time is a very welcome development for Bangladesh, in particular for the people of Chattogram. Appreciation is due to the Ministries, local authorities of Chattogram, the company that removed the DDT, and in particular the frontline workers who packaged the DDT during the last months.”
Saso Martinov, who led the FAO project which removed the DDT, said: “This was a complex and highly technical operation that took considerable expertise and planning and which was the first of its kind in Bangladesh. We overcame the many challenges through the combined support of the Government of Bangladesh and partners, and through the hard work of the labourers who moved the DDT, many of whom came from local communities.” He added: “This is a major achievement but there is still a long way to go to reducing the use of other pesticides in Bangladesh. We want to strengthen governance and enforcement of pesticide use, improve monitoring and reporting of pesticide residues in food, and raise awareness about pesticide contamination in the environment.”
While clean of visible traces of DDT, it is impossible to fully decontaminate the buildings and land that are impregnated with DDT after nearly 40 years of exposure. The cleared site will be handed back to the DGHS next year.