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Daily News Blog

17
Oct

Management of Pesticide Waste a Global Problem

(Beyond Pesticides, October 17, 2018) The unsustainable life cycle management of pesticides during the past seven decades has created huge stockpiles of these (and other toxic) chemicals across much of the globe, including Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. The journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research has published a special series of articles and reports from the International HCH & Pesticides Association (IHPA), titled “The legacy of pesticides and POPs stockpiles — a threat to health and the environment.” Stockpiles have accumulated because some products have been banned for health or environmental reasons, leaving stocks (aka waste) that are often stored inadequately, and which deteriorate and migrate to contaminate the environment and put people at risk. Those affected are very often in poor, rural communities that may be unaware of the threat in their midst. Beyond Pesticides covered this “chemical time bomb” problem in 2004 and again nearly a decade ago.

The special issue of Environmental Science and Pollution Research responds to multiple fronts on this problem of accumulation and storage of toxic compounds, identifying the two largest issues as: (1) the stockpile of some 4–7 million tons of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) waste from lindane production; and the 240,000 tons of pesticides, no longer used, that are accumulating in the EECCA countries (in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus region) — without safety regulations to control their storage and release into the environment. [Note: a tonne is 1,000 kg; a North American ton is 907.1847 kg.] These “legacy” stockpiles of toxic chemicals represent enormous risks to human and environmental health and safety.

POPs — persistent organic pollutants — were the subject of a 2001 international treaty, The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The treaty was the culmination of negotiations conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which launched the treaty process in 1998. It aimed to eliminate or restrict the production and use of POPs, chemical substances that persist in the environment, bio-accumulate through the food web and particularly in fatty tissues, and pose risks to human health and the environment. Pesticides represent a significant portion of compounds designated as POPs.

The treaty identified and banned 12 especially noxious POPs: aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and polychlorinated dibenzofurans. In the years since 2001, others have been added to the list, including several pesticides: lindane, endosulfans, α-hexachlorocyclohexane and β-hexachlorocyclohexane (β-HCH), and pentachlorobenzene (PeCB). The Stockholm treaty requires that developed countries fund measures to eliminate the production and use of intentionally produced POPs, eliminate unintentionally produced POPs when possible, and manage and dispose of POPs wastes in an environmentally sound manner. POPs produced unintentionally are generally byproducts of combustion or industrial processes; incineration is a very common source, and dioxins are a common, “unintentional” POP byproduct.

The IHPA organizes its biannual International HCH and Pesticides Forum, which convenes policy makers, researchers, government entities, project donors, and representatives from civil society and industry for discussion on issues related to POP pollution and potential solutions to the variety of problems they present. Its Zaragoza Declaration, eponymously named for the site of its most-recent convention in 2015, called on all national governments “to take leadership in the elimination of POP pesticides, POPs and associated waste; understand and discuss the increasing negative socioeconomic, environment and human health impacts of non-action and the associated damages and losses slowing down economic development; strengthen environmental institutions on all levels, build capacity through training programs and ensure that existing capacities are maintained; strengthen the custom regulations and monitoring in order to avoid substandard and counterfeit products entering the countries; and allocate funding for awareness raising through media and education as well as to advance sustainable technologies for elimination of obsolete pesticides and associated wastes, contaminated soils and water in an environmentally sound manner.” The gathering also generated “to do” lists for individual governments, the European Parliament and European Commission, international organizations and financial institutions, and other potential partners in such efforts.

In addition, the declaration identified three areas for further understanding and development: identifying and implementing an established framework for sound management of hazardous waste in the EECCA countries, and for building leadership and capacity for the task; the need for multinational funding of remediation problems at identified mega-sites, such as that in the Aragon region of Spain; and recognition that the total clean-up costs for the known legacy sites is less than 0.1% of the 2014 GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the EECCA countries. Hence, elimination of the legacy of POP pesticides, POPs, and associated waste should be affordable, the IHPA concludes. One of the IHPA papers, tellingly, indicates the ultimate folly of loosing these compounds into the environment: “The cases of the POPs pesticide dumpsites in Kyrgyzstan demonstrate the current challenges to manage such sites in developing countries and that often only small budgets and minimum mitigation measures are available to address the largest exposure risks.”

POPs are associated with a variety of health problems, including early menopause, and Type 2 and gestational diabetes. Also underscored in various of the IHPA papers and reports are: links between exposure to POPs and risks of obesity and metabolic syndrome, and the particular sensitivity of the developing fetus, especially the brain and immune system, to environmental chemical insults. The IHPA helps identify the enormity of the persistent organic pollutant (POP) problem globally, and in the Kyrgyz Republic, in particular, where levels of these chemicals in blood, breastmilk, and human placentas are very high. Increasing levels of organochlorine pesticides found in placental tissue were correlated with increased health risks of low birth weights, pre-eclampsia, infection, and congenital anomalies in newborns, among other impacts.

Dealing effectively with this poorly controlled aggregation of pollution, its relevance to human exposure risk, and possible improvements in management and/or destruction of the stockpiles is a big challenge for developing and transitioning economies, says the IHPA. Funds with which to change or institute more-protective approaches are insufficient, and appropriate technology is often unavailable. One region in northeast Spain, for example, attempted to relocate an HCH landfill because of extreme risk to two nearby rivers. Because of lack of funding to dismantle and relocate the waste and the many tons of contaminated soil to an “appropriate” site, it was simply moved to another landfill farther from the rivers.

China has managed to destroy more than 10,000 tons of POP pesticide stockpiles, and 400,000 tons of pesticide-contaminated soils, although it did so via incineration in cement kilns — which comes with its own pollution issues. Researchers are exploring alternative and less dangerous methods, for example: the utility of certain bacteria for degrading aldrin; the role that a bacterium, combined with ryegrass, might play in the remediation of soils contaminated with DDT and DDE; and the potential of a selective catalytic oxidative system, using a self-developed honeycomb catalyst in a municipal waste incinerator, to destroy some POPs.

Endemic to storage of toxic pesticide waste is the issue of these compounds migrating out of storage and into the environment. Some have likened the storage issue to that of nuclear waste storage: there simply is no great solution. Approaches to the storage of such toxic waste — often landfilling — are fraught with significant risk of the waste compounds leaking into proximate soils, water bodies, and/or groundwater, or in the worst circumstances, being volatilized into the air. Beyond storage, there is the problem of actually destroying the wastes. Incineration, whether via cement kiln co-incineration, hazardous waste incineration, or so-called advanced solid waste incineration (ASWI), are primary methods and come with their own baggage. There is no “pollution free” way to burn anything, including toxic waste. Chief among the products of the incineration of POPs and other wastes are highly toxic dioxins — compounds that can cause serious health impacts on reproduction, development, and endocrine and immune function, as well as cause cancers. As the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives stated in its report, Incinerators Trash Human Health, “All incinerators contaminate people and the environment with toxic and cancer-causing emissions.”

Once humans created pesticides, they automatically created storage and life cycle problems, as is common in the materials stream. Those developing materials, whether chemicals, or industrial or consumer products, too infrequently attend to the issue of “what happens at the other end of the life cycle?” Nor do they, for a variety of reasons that include inadequate governmental regulation, tend to consider the environmental and health issues to which the presence of such items may contribute or even cause.

Yet here we all are, with huge amounts of these compounds in our environment because human societies have not yet adopted principles of precaution in materials development. This toxic waste from pesticides that may have been manufactured and distributed into the environment for decades, and are then, at some point, deemed too dangerous for use, is but one of the challenges we face. Beyond Pesticides monitors this and all issues related to the development, use, and regulation of pesticides.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-018-3188-3

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