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UN agency calls for funds to clean up pesticide waste in Latin America

UN agency calls for funds to clean up pesticide waste in Latin America

The scale of toxic chemical waste from unused and obsolete pesticides in Latin America is far bigger than previously estimated, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said today, urging international funding to address the problem.

“Previous FAO estimates, based on information provided by countries, suggested a total of about 10,000 tonnes of chemicals requiring disposal in the region,” said Mark Davis, coordinator of FAO's obsolete pesticides programme.

He said new data placed that figure at more than three times as much. “Since that time a more frightening picture has begun to emerge indicating that stocks are far higher and are currently estimated to be between 30,000 and 50,000 tonnes,” he added.

In northern Colombia, around 200 tonnes of the most toxic pesticides were discovered in a single site in El Copey/César Region. FAO has supported the Government in surveying the site and chemicals were repackaged and destroyed.

In Paraguay, urgent efforts are being made to remove 125 tonnes of pesticides and heavily contaminated material that were damaged by fire in the capital Asunción in July 2003, according to the agency. Efforts to extinguish the fire led to heavy contamination of the nearby Paraguay River, which flows into Argentina and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean, as well as an adjacent village where people are now showing various symptoms of chronic intoxication.

FAO is assisting Paraguay in quantifying obsolete pesticide stocks in other parts of the country. Funds of approximately $3 million will be needed to remove and destroy this toxic waste before further harm is caused to people and the environment.

In Bolivia, old stocks of donated arsenic-based pesticides and volatile fumigants were found in residential areas and close to important water bodies, including Lake Titicaca. Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in the region, has made efforts to take stock and safely secure these toxins by repackaging the waste with the support of FAO. But still Bolivia needs $3 million to remove the chemicals and put in place measures to strengthen chemical management.

FAO has organized a regional training programme for nine South American countries. Government regulators, emergency service staff, industry representatives and activists learned how to safely and effectively complete a detailed inventory and environmental risk assessment of obsolete pesticides, and how to design and supervise a clean-up operation.

However, the FAO Obsolete Pesticides Programme has no further funds to support such work in the Latin America region, Mr. Davis said. The Organization is therefore now calling for donor funding to build capacity in the region and to ensure that it complies with the highest international standards.