It is now four years since the 2001 Stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants came into force. Nadia Weekes looks at what the EU is doing to deal with old stocks and contaminated sites.
Large stocks of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) exist in developing countries, especially Africa. But central and eastern Europe is also heavily affected.
Nearly 30,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides languish in drums in the region’s EU member states alone, according to estimates by the International Hexachlorocyclohexane and Pesticides Association (IHPA) (see figure 1).
The region has a legacy of heavy pesticide production and consumption to boost agricultural yields. Under Soviet multi-annual planning, farmers were incentivised to use pesticides.
After the Iron Curtain fell and the communist regimes collapsed, most of the buildings where these substances were produced and stored were abandoned. Vandalism and petty theft often followed, leading to hazardous materials spreading across wide areas.
“But the political priority for this part of Europe remains economic development: people want more jobs and better infrastructure. Environmental protection is not a big issue,” according to John Vijgen of IHPA, an expert in contamination issues who is familiar with the region.
Mr Vijgen has campaigned for years to bring POPs to the forefront of EU policy, but despite the sympathy of several MEPs, he has found it difficult to make major inroads.
“Some MEPs are very interested in this. But it’s hard to find a way to put it on the EU agenda,” he says.
The Baltic states are finally starting to take action, and the Czech Republic has displayed some true leadership among the EU’s new members when it comes to environmental matters, Mr Vijgen told ENDS.
But EU states have not been as proactive as needed in tackling the legacy of heavy pesticide use.
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