A huge stockpile of the banned pesticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), left in Chattogram city for 37 years, has finally been removed.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has supported the government of Bangladesh to dispose of the DDT safely and to clean up the storage site in a complex international operation.
The final batch of repackaged DDT will be loaded on to a ship later this week and then the entire consignment will set sail for France where the waste will be incinerated at a specialist facility in the country, said a FAO press release Wednesday.
To mark the completion of the DDT removal operation, a closing event was held today at the Radisson Blu hotel in Chattogram.
Chaired by DrFarhina Ahmed, Secretary, Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change; the event was attended, among others, by Md Mostafa Kamal, Secretary, Ministry of Shipping; Md Ashraf Uddin, Divisional Commissioner, Chattogram; Sanjay Kumar Bhowmik, Additional Secretary (Environment Wing), Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change; and Dr Abdul Hamid, Director General (Additional Secretary) Department of Environment (DoE). Bangladesh imported 500 metric tonnes (500,000 kg) of the pesticide in 1985 to control malaria-carrying mosquito but the consignment was deemed technically non-compliant. Upon arrival it was put into a government compound, the Medical Sub-Depot of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), in Agrabad of Chattogram.
Over the years, many of the boxes and bags disintegrated leaving exposed piles of the white DDT powder. In 1991, Bangladesh imposed a DDT ban but the huge consignment remained.
FAO consultant Mark Davis, an expert on obsolete pesticides, described the legacy DDT as 'highly unusual'. "This is the largest amount of the pesticide removed from a single location that I'm aware of. It's also highly unusual in that it was stored in the middle of a city and because it was there for so long."
Mark Davis, who oversaw the operation, stressed the high safety standards of the removal and clean-up, saying "This is a large quantity of a dangerous substance stored in an urban environment. Our operation applied all necessary measures to ensure that nobody was exposed and that none of the chemical spread in the environment. The safety standards applied were the same as they would have been in Europe."
Under the supervision of FAO experts and Government of Bangladesh officials, a specialist company based in Greece took four months to complete the repacking of the DDT at the site. In the hot and humid conditions, trained workers wearing full hazardous material protective suits worked alongside specialist machinery. In some situations, they had to hand-shovel the DDT because it was unsafe to use machinery inside the building. The DDT was loaded into high-specification, UN-approved chemical containers that were then loaded onto 24shipping containers.
Removal of DDT is highly technical and bound by international laws, rules and regulations. Fourteen countries had to give their permission for the ship carrying the waste to transit through their territorial waters, namely Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Malta, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, plus France. France is one of only a handful of countries that has the capacity to dispose of DDT safely and also allows the import of hazardous waste from other countries.
The work was undertaken by FAO's Pesticide Risk Reduction in Bangladesh project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and co-financed by the Government of Bangladesh and FAO. FAO designed the operation based on extensive experience and expertise as part of an overall mission to remove all obsolete pesticides from Bangladesh.
Externally funded disposal operations of this nature are unlikely to be repeated and it is important that national capacity is developed to deal with hazardous waste from all sectors, including agriculture, health, industry, and transport. As part of this drive, FAO has provided technical training to officials from the Department of Environment to deal with hazardous waste.
Robert D. Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh, said: "FAO is very pleased to have assisted the government of Bangladesh to finally deal with this long-running problem that was unfortunately not resolved much sooner. DDT has no place for use in controlling malaria or in modern agriculture."
He added: "The removal of the DDT after such a long time is a very welcome development for Bangladesh, in particular for the people of Chattogram. Appreciation is due to the Ministries, local authorities of Chattogram, the company that removed the DDT, and in particular the frontline workers who packaged the DDT during the last months."