Greenpeace cleans up poisons in Nepal and calls on manufacturers to retrieve world's obsolete pesticides

Press release - 17 October, 2001

Greenpeace announced this morning that its efforts to contain a stockpile of highly toxic obsolete pesticides in Nepal have been successful and are nearing completion. The environmental organisation called on the pesticide manufacturers to remove the toxic waste from Nepal and to ensure it is disposed of safely. The pesticides were exported to the country by multinationals such as Bayer, Sumitomo, Sandoz, Shell, Rhone Poulenc, Du Pont, Union Carbide (Dow) and Monsanto and abandoned there after they reached their expiry date or were banned.

The most dangerous substances found at the Nepalese site, located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, originate from the German chemical company Bayer. These include highly toxic chlorinated organomercury compounds, banned for use in the European Union since 1988. Despite requests to Bayer for help from the Royal Nepalese Government, the company has refused any support.

"These stockpiles of obsolete pesticides are ecological time bombs," said Greenpeace toxic waste expert Andreas Bernstorff. "For these companies to abandon these toxic poisons with a total disregard for the health of local people and the environment is shameful. This would not be allowed to happen in the West, " he added.

Greenpeace carried five kilogrammes of the mercury to the German embassy in Nepal this morning and requested its political support to ensure that a solution would finally be found for the safe disposal of the toxic waste outside Nepal. The German ambassador agreed to do all he can.

The obsolete pesticides have been inadequately stored in rusting and rotting original packaging in a warehouse at the National Agricultural Research Council (NARC). The toxic waste is threatening the health of residents, workers and livestock in the area as well as local water supplies, irrigation systems and soil.

Wearing full protection gear and breathing masks, a dozen activists from India, Germany and the UK, together with Nepalese agricultural technicians, have spent the past two weeks making the warehouse safe. The activists are containing the all the poisons, including a thick layer that has built up on the warehouse floor, in high density barrels and hundreds of small containers, sachets and bags and are making them ready for sea transport back to their countries of origin.

The deadly substances, which include banned pesticides such as dieldrin, chlorinated organomercury compounds and DDT, were manufactured and imported to Nepal by Western multinationals some 20 years ago. All the poisons were donated to Nepal or channeled through international aid mechanisms in order to open markets.

An estimated 500,000 metric tonnes of obsolete pesticides have been abandoned worldwide, mainly in developing countries. They are usually stored in similarly poor conditions, often in residential areas or even next to schools. Greenpeace is calling for a comprehensive, global inventory of all obsolete pesticides and for the manufacturers and suppliers of the pesticides to take full logistic, technical and financial responsibility for all stockpiles around the world. It is also calling on companies to ensure the obsolete pesticides are disposed of safely, according to the regulations of the Stockholm Convention. (1)

Notes: (1) The Stockholm Convention, adopted by world governments in May 2001, states that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) , such as dieldrin and DDT, should be disposed of using technologies that do not create more POPs, which indicates that incineration technologies should be avoided.