Saying Goodbye to Tanzania’s Old Pesticide Stocks

September 12, 2012


Packaged waste ready for shipping

  • A regional stockpiles program is helping Tanzania to get rid of tons of environmentally-unsafe pesticides by the end of the year.
  • Although much of the expired pesticide was stockpiled, some of it was found buried in the ground, causing high levels of soil contamination. A special exception was made to excavate it.
  • The US$6.8 million program is funded through the Global Environmental Fund, which is supported by several development partners, including the World Bank.

MOROGORO, Sept. 12, 2012 – Hanging from the old iron gate securing two warehouses on Kichangani Road, is a handwritten sign in Kiswahili warning “Danger. Human Activities and Animal Grazing Prohibited.”

Before these premises were blocked off, many Morogoro residents used the area as a harmless and convenient shortcut to the other side of town from the nearby railway station. One group set up a security firm inside one of the buildings, and used the adjacent warehouse to take naps next to stocks of chemicals, oblivious to the side-effects. A clever one set up a maize garden in a corner of the grounds.

But this abandoned former DDT pesticide manufacturing plant is now one of six central collection points for obsolete pesticides being removed from Tanzania through the Africa Stockpiles Programme (ASP). The US$6.8 million ASP-Tanzania is funded by several development partners, including the World Bank, through the Global Environment Fund.

Inside the long warehouse, 300 tons of mainly DDT-contaminated soils collected from just this 1,500m sq. expanse, sit in custom-made bags next to drums of formulated DDT – the pesticide Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). The pesticide was banned more than 40 years ago in the U.S. and other parts of the world because of its harmful effects to the environment; however it used for disease vector control in many countries.

By this November, these stocks and others from centers around the country will be put on trucks headed for the port of Dar es Salaam. There, they will be loaded onto ships destined for the United Kingdom where they will finally be destroyed at a high-temperature facility before the ASP formally ends in December.

Collection at this center also includes expired cottoran (Fluometuron), a cotton pesticide found next door at the premises of the collapsed Morogoro Farmers’ Cooperative Union, where the stocks were left in ordered heaps. At the one-time factory, however, some of the stocks of formulated DDT were found abandoned under a tree where the pesticide seeped directly into the soil whenever it rained. More pesticides from Dodoma and Singida will be added before the trucks arrive to take everything away in November.

“When the program started, this was one of the priority sites,” says Arnold Kisiraga, the ASP field manager with the National Environmental Management Council that is implementing the cleanup operation. “Testing on samples from this area had shown that there was a high concentration of DDT which was on a much larger scale than expected and went deeper into the soils. Researchers had expected that it would be about 10cm deep but in some spots we have been down to one meter.”

While the program intended to collect and destroy only expired chemicals, exceptions had to be made to take into account this high level of soil pollution in a location in the middle of Morogoro. Although similar contamination has been identified in soils in at least 14 sites in Tanzania, Morogoro is the only location from which soil is being excavated for disposal along with the chemicals.

Excavators removed the soil and packed it into special United Nations-approved cubic meter sacks, or ‘flexible intermediate bulk containers’ made from Polypropylene. The bags labeled with ‘Y’ indicate they are designed to contain only the second most hazardous substances, in this case, the soil. The DDT and other chemicals that have been recovered such as cottoran are packed and sealed into United Nations-approved drums classified ‘X’ for only the most hazardous substances.

“Including this soil component makes the program really expensive,” says Michael Dino Hansen, the technical advisor for the ASP-Tanzania. “But the level of contamination that was found would have stayed in the soil forever unless this kind of action is taken. It is very persistent and very difficult to biodegrade, so it would have posed a long-term threat for people and their environment.”

Because of limited project funding, the program has only been able to dig up 300 tons of the most contaminated soil, leaving some 1,000 tons in place here and in other locations around the country. It costs US$4,000 to excavate, pack and haul a single ton of contaminated soil. The total cargo to be dispatched for disposal is 400 tons, including pesticide loads from the other collection points of Vikuge, Mbeya, Arusha, Kibiti, and Nzega, as well as Mahonda in Zanzibar. The government, with the assistance of the World Bank, has been soliciting additional resources in order to maximize soils disposal.

“What we have done is we have extended the site so that we are sure that the risky areas are within the restricted zone which we have fenced off,” Hansen explained. “The good thing is that over there is only a railway station. We will put out a marker to indicate to what level we have excavated and then we shall put some clean soil on top to prevent people from coming into contact with the lower contaminated soils. People are barred from conducting any business on the premises.”

At this point, the contracted shipper, Veolia ES Solid Waste, Inc., was eight weeks away from arriving to claim their consignments. It has been a long journey indeed just to reach this point.

The inventory of stocks constituted the lengthiest stage of the cleanup. Lasting some four years, this entailed going around the country and sensitizing people about the operation. Lack of awareness about the threat of such stocks led to the problem, as stocks grew through decades of unintentional improper procurement by - or donations to - institutions, including agricultural colleges, farms, co-ops, and enterprises such as the one at Morogoro, as well as to malaria prevention programs. When the chemicals expired, their owners did not know what to do with them. Some resorted to burying them in the ground while others left them stacked in unused buildings. As a result, 200 tons of DDT has been collected from the government-owned livestock farm at Vikuge in Kibaha region, while Mtibwa Sugar Factory in Kilombero has contributed 50 tons. Individuals and small businesses selling agricultural pesticides also contributed to the piles. 

“We had to go to many remote villages to find these things,” says Kisiraga. “If a farmer had his quantities, you would register the stock but you wouldn’t take it because at that stage we were just researching. These pre-disposal operations were core activities and they take a lot of time. But people don’t appreciate that work was being done at that stage. It is only now that people can see that real stocks have been dug up and are clearly headed out. The contractor will furnish us with a certificate of disposal from the UK at the end and that will be great, but for us it is just great to simply have everything set to move these dangerous chemicals out of the country.”

The Africa Stockpiles Programme in Tanzania is part of a regional program with the dual objectives of eliminating existing stockpiles of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and other obsolete pesticides in Africa, and putting in place measures to prevent new stockpiles don’t take their place. ASP was launched in 2005, and implementation began in seven countries: Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia and Tanzania. The Program is supported by participating governments and partner organizations including the World Bank, Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), CropLife International (CLI), Pesticides Action Network (PAN), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the European Commission (EC), the Government of the Kingdom of Denmark, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Corporation (SDC). Initial financing for the Program came from the GEF with a grant of US$25 million which was supplemented  by additional bilateral and multilateral funds to make up the US$58 million needed to for activities in seven countries.

Each of the ASP countries is at a different stage of implementation. Tanzania looks to be the second country for which operations will be completed. And as the program also aims at contributing towards a strategy for sustainable management of future stocks, Arnold Kisiraga and his colleagues only hope buyers of pesticides around the country will remember the key message they have struggled to drill down during sensitizations: purchase only what you need; getting rid of any excess is costly all round.