Djibouti: UN agency urges quick action to avoid disaster after chemical spill

Djibouti: UN agency urges quick action to avoid disaster after chemical spill

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for immediate emergency intervention in Djibouti, where 10 shipping containers leaking toxic pesticide are creating serious human health and environmental problems.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for immediate emergency intervention in Djibouti, where 10 shipping containers leaking toxic pesticide are creating serious human health and environmental problems.

The current location of the containers – which hold chromated copper arsenate, primarily used as a wood preservative for power and telegraph poles and is carcinogenic – is already severely contaminated, FAO said. The worst affected site is within 400 metres of a food aid store.

Over 200 tonnes of the chemical were shipped recently in plastic containers from the United Kingdom to be delivered to the Ethiopian Power Corporation, according to the UN agency.

“All previous shipments of this chemical have used steel drums for the product and no leakage occurred,” said FAO expert Kevin Helps, who was asked by the Djibouti Ministry of Agriculture to visit the site and make safeguard recommendations. “It appears that the plastic containers have suffered a catastrophic failure resulting in leakage from the container. The containers must have started to leak while on the vessel.”

Port authorities have taken first steps to safeguard the contaminated areas, and the potential for the spread of contamination by dust or wind has been reduced, FAO said. As an immediate emergency intervention, the agency suggested quarantining the storage site and placing guards to prevent access to the area. All further leakage should be contained to prevent further soil contamination.