Greenpeace contains dangerous pesticides abandoned in Nepal and calls on Bayer and Shell to take them back

Press release - 21 January, 2002

New Delhi/Kathmandu: Today Greenpeace finished containing six tonnes of dangerous obsolete pesticides exported by the world's biggest chemical companies to the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal and made the entire stockpile safe and ready for sea transport. Several local non-government organisations and Greenpeace activists tied a banner reading "Toxic Free Nepal" around the warehouse in Kathmandu where the poisons are contained.

"It's time for the chemical industry to move beyond 'responsible care' rhetoric and take genuine responsibility for its products from cradle to grave. Greenpeace is inviting the companies that made these pesticides to come and retrieve this toxic waste and dispose of it safely in the country of origin," said Greenpeace toxic trade expert, Andreas Bernstorff.

More than a dozen Greenpeace activists from India, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, together with Nepalese agricultural technicians, started cleaning up the toxic waste, that had been abandoned in dangerous conditions on the outskirts of Kathmandu, three months ago and completed it this month.

Approximately one third of the waste is pesticides manufactured by Bayer and Shell; the remainder were made by Union Carbide (Dow), Sumitomo, Sandoz, Rhone Poulenc (now Bayer), Du Pont and Monsanto, amongst other companies. The deadly substances found in Kathmandu were donated to Nepal by Western companies or channelled through international aid mechanisms over twenty five years ago. The site is one of several locations in Nepal where obsolete pesticides have piled up as result of oversupply.

Pesticides found at the site in Kathmandu include a highly toxic chlorinated organomercury compound, Agallol 3, manufactured by Bayer, which was never registered in Germany. In spite of that, according the Nepalese officials, these consignments were sent to Nepal around 1970 in order to open markets. 30 years later, the red dust from the broken and rotting containers of Bayer's mercury compounds was contaminating the entire site which is located at the heart of the drinking water catchment area of Kathmandu.

In 1999, Bayer refused requests for help from the Nepalese government with containing the existing stockpiles. As a result of the Greenpeace campaign, Bayer has now offered "assistance" via its global umbrella organisation 'CropLife' but has not committed itself to taking any concrete steps. Now the Nepalese government has to respond to 'CropLife' and ensure the chemical industry removes all obsolete pesticides from the country, of which there are at least 75 tonnes.

Shell's dieldrin, which is a deadly nerve poison for animals and humans and also persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment, was banned in industrialised countries as early as the mid seventies. In Nepal it was found in rotten bags and spread all over the floor of the Kathmandu warehouse. The dangers of dieldrin have been known to Shell at least for 25 years but the company continued sales and exports to developing countries until 1991.

"Shell also bears the responsibility to identify, contain and remove the toxic pesticides for safe disposal in the country of origin," said Eco Matser, Greenpeace Netherland's Toxics Campaigner. "Shell, Bayer and other chemical companies cannot expect the Nepalese government and taxpayers to pay for this. These companies made the profits, now they need to pay for clean up and safe disposal of their unwanted products," he added.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) bans the use of dieldrin globally and calls for the elimination of existing stocks of these and other chemicals with similar characteristics.

An estimated 500,000 metric tonnes of obsolete pesticides have been abandoned world-wide, mainly in developing countries. They are usually stored in similarly poor conditions, often in residential areas or even next to schools. Greenpeace is calling on the industry to compile a full inventory of all stockpiles of obsolete pesticides around the globe and to take full logistical, technical and financial responsibility for their retrieval and safe disposal, in line with the regulations of the Stockholm Convention. (1)

VVPR info: Photos and BETA SP video footage of the obsolete pesticide stockpile in Nepal and the Greenpeace clean up activity are available from the Greenpeace International press desk.

Notes: (1) The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), adopted by world governments in May 2001, bans the production and use of POPs, including dieldrin, and calls for the safe disposal of existing stocks of these and other chemicals with similar characteristics. It also states that such chemicals should be disposed of using technologies that do not create or release POPs, which indicates that incineration technologies should be avoided.