PESTICIDE PROJECT IN TAJIKISTAN
The impressive steppes of Central Asia hide a heavy secret: thousands of tons of pesticides dating from the Soviet era are buried there, affecting the health of their inhabitants.
The problem dates back to the 1950s, when pesticides, mainly DDT, were distributed almost free of charge in the Soviet Union to increase agricultural production. With the collapse of the USSR, large stocks remained without management or protection. Since then, obsolete pesticides have started to enter the environment and migrate into the food chain. Some of these pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, accumulate in living tissue and can cause birth defects, nerve damage, cancer and other health problems.
FSD, which has been present in Tajikistan since 2002 for demining and destruction of weapons and ammunition stockpiles, has begun to tackle the problem of obsolete pesticides three years ago.
According to current knowledge, 68 heavily contaminated sites are spread across the country.
The first priority of FSD in 2016 was to allow four families who lived right next to an obsolete pesticide warehouse on one of these sites to be relocated. The concentration of pesticides in this village was such that it caused a persistent pungent odour across the site. One of the families lived in a house whose back wall was the wall of the old storage facility, visibly corroded by the impact of pesticides.
The FSD has built four houses in a neighboring clean area to relocate the families. The pesticide warehouse was destroyed and a perimeter fence was put in place so no one can settle in the area again.
Subsequently, in collaboration with the environmental consultants of the Dutch company Tauw and in connection with the Tajik authorities, FSD carried out water and soil sampling to assess the level of pollution in several locations. It was determined that the highest and most viable priority was the village of Oykamar. This site contains no less than 14 contaminated areas where pesticides are buried or piled in gardens and warehouses.
Until the end of 2019, FSD will implement several measures to remedy this pollution. Our teams will soon be conducting awareness campaigns with local communities to inform them of the danger and to minimize their exposure to pesticides. For example, they will advise inhabitants to favor crops that absorb less chemical residues, such as wheat rather than watermelon. In some areas, the FSD will excavate in order to remove the top layer of soil and evacuate it to a secure storage facility. Other areas, too large for such a treatment, will be fenced.
The ultimate goal is to find a way to destroy pesticide stocks in a clean and definitive way. In coordination with the Global Environment Facility, the FSD will now buckle down to testing different techniques. One of the most promising ones is called supercritical water oxidation ("iSCWO"), which processes pesticides at high pressure and high temperature.