Number 6: Sustainable Development Part 2
TOXIC WASTE DUMPING IN ZAMBIA
by Katongo Chisupa
The importation and subsequent dumping of toxic waste in a number of African countries is old news, to which Zambia paid scant attention. Perhaps it was thought it could not happen in this part of Africa.
But a couple of years ago, scores of villagers in Chongwe district, about 40 kilometres east of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, descended on a concrete slab where the army had buried contaminated beef imported from a former Eastern Block country. The beef had been lying on the shelves of state-run shops for many months;certainly it had been consumed by countless Zambians. The extent of the danger wasn't known until the leading daily newspaper, The Times of Zambia, stumbled on the story and published an exposť on the radioactive beef. The nation was stunned by the revelation.
For over ten years, a concoction of some 100 tonnes of imported fertilizer and pesticides has been lying outside a Lusaka warehouse, exposed to the hot tropical sun and heavy rain. These toxic substances have caused havoc to the groundwater around the capital, though the extent of groundwater contamination is not yet known.
These are just two classic examples from Lusaka, and there are many more throughout the country. Zambia's entire economy has in one way or another benefitted from the chemical industry, and the country imports and manufactures some of its own agricultural and industrial chemicals.
Zambia also has major stockpiles of obsolete pesticides and other chemicals in different parts of the country. Disposal technology or safe storage of waste do not exist. Many chemical and related industries do not treat their hazardous wastes, which are often discharged into municipal drains and eventually into bodies of water.
Pollution and Agriculture
The choking or eutrophication of water due to agro-chemicals and untreated sewage is conspicuous in many Zambian towns. It is estimated that in several towns, council sewage treatment plants are handling or receiving only 20% of all sewage. Even this amount is inadequately treated. Eighty percent of the untreated sewage is lost into storm drains because of leakages or blockages. The consequences of this hazardous waste is the proliferation of pathogens such as those causing cholera, dysentery and intestinal diseases.
Since the 1970s, when world copper prices began to plunge, the government has placed emphasis on the agricultural sector. The agro-industry has been steadily growing since, and the country is almost self-sufficient in food production.
To maximize crop production, there has been a steady increase in demand for agro-chemicals. In a bid to reduce high import costs of chemical fertilizers, the government built a chemical fertilizer plant in 1970 with a capacity to produce 196,000 metric tonnes of mostly ammonium NPK-based fertilizers. During the 1992-93 agricultural season, Zambia used approximately 450,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer, compared with 150,000 just two decades ago. According to the World Bank, Zambia's commercial farming consumption of fertilizer per hectare is said to be higher than that of other African countries.
Zambia is also witnessing a steady increase in the import and use of different types of pesticides for both agriculture and public health. In 1992, the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ) estimated that about 200 pesticide types were being used in Zambia in quantities exceeding 1000 metric tonnes. By the end of 1993, the number had nearly reached 300.
Pesticides have serious effects on health and on the environment in general. Due to a lack of legislation, the use of pesticides has not been regulated. In some cases, this has meant importation of pesticides which have been banned elsewhere in the world. This lack of legislation has also compromised the safety of workers who handle these products, and deaths related to pesticide use have been reported.
Other serious environmental effects have been observed, such as fish kills during large-scale pest control programmes which use endossulfan against tsetse flies. More recently bird and snake kills;in addition to insect kills;have been reported during aerial and ground locust operations in southwestern Zambia.
According to the State of the Environment Report on Zambia, approximately 200 metric tonnes of obsolete pesticides;including DDT, dieldrin and other chlorinated pesticides;are stocked in different parts of the country, with a very high risk of polluting groundwater bodies. The report further states that lack of awareness exists at all levels of society, including among senior government officials and company executives, workers and the man on the street. Chemicals are freely sold alongside foodstuffs in supermarkets, drugstores and more recently, with liberalized trade, on the streets.
The risk of warehouses catching fire is also high as chemicals tend to be stored in unsuitable unventilated warehouses characterized by spillage, cross-mixing and strong stenches.
Industrial Pollution and Hazardous Waste
Despite government diversification policies, Zambia's mining industry provides the country's economic base. About 300,000 metric tonnes of chemicals are used each year in the mining industry. These include cyanide, xanthates, organic solvent, acids alkalis, peroxide, petrochemicals and complex heavy metals. Some of the key problems with chemical handling in this sector are transportation, storage and disposal. In 1993, no fewer than five major accidents;some of them fatal;occurred during transportation of hazardous chemicals.
The wastes from the use of these chemicals is reasonably treated although in some cases over-spills from settling ponds do cause appreciable pollution of streams and rivers. In an effort to control levels of heavy metals in their slurry or waste streams, the water pH has been higher than 7 and therefore has affected aquatic life. High sulphate levels have been reported upstream of discharge points.
Another danger involves sulphur dioxide, whose impact on humans and vegetation is felt more intensively in the country's copperbelt mining region. Sulphur dioxide affects the upper respiratory tract in humans, causing irritation and coughing.
The copperbelt is the country's most polluted region. It has a high concentration of industrial chemicals because of the manufacturing industry. These industries include pesticides and chemical manufacturing, wood preservation, metal plating and finishing, paper processing, battery, paint, food processing, leather ceramics, dye-textile, and petro-chemicals, to cite a few. The hazardous wastes produced by these industries are responsible for polluting many of the country's bodies of water.
Zambia's industrial base consumes toxic substances for a variety of products and as a result, produces significant wastes. According to the Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ), Zambia has in excess of 300 metric tonnes of chemical waste lying in different parts of the country. These wastes are generally expired pesticides, along with a few mining and industrial chemicals. Almost half the wastes have been dumped into the open, threatening humans and animals either directly or indirectly through surface and groundwater bodies.
Since Zambia lacks the technological capacity to destroy these huge cross-mixed chemical wastes, the only feasible disposal method is safe storage until the capacity is made available. Some companies do have some waste treatment technology, but it is generally inadequate. Another problem is the lack of qualified personnel to advise management. And where hazardous reduction technologies do exist, the equipment is either operating below capacity or not working at all. Some industries characterized by the emission of hazardous dust particles do not have functional capturing devices; as a result, they expose their workers to toxic fumes and dusts. Most industries provide very little treatment to their highly hazardous wastes, which are discharged into municipal drains or sewers or directly into streams or rivers.
Disposal of chemical sludge is also a difficult problem to resolve. Chrome sludge made up of approximately 20 % chromium is scrapped from the settling pond of a local tannery in central Zambia, dumped within the premises and later burned. There is no process whatsoever to reclaim it.
Hospital waste management practices are extremely poor, and most government hospitals do not have waste management facilities such as incinerators. In some cases, highly infectious biological waste is dumped into shallow pits and left to rot. Syringes, needles and bandages are disposed of in makeshift illegal dumping sites, along with other municipal wastes which attract scavenging youths and adults.
Still, despite this gloomy picture some positive steps are being taken by the Environmental Council of Zambia, the national agency charged with protecting Zambia's environment.
Government in Action
Through the Pesticides and Toxic Substances Unit (PTS), the ECZ has put into place the Pesticides and Toxic Substances Regulations of 1994 which come under the Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act of 1990;the basis for the creation of ECZ. Under these new regulations, any person intending to manufacture, import, export, improve or process a new pesticide or toxic substance must apply for registration with the ECZ. The regulations further state that the application must be made at least 90 days before importing, exporting or the commencement of manufacturing, processing or reprocessing activities of the pesticides or toxic substances.
The ECZ inspectorate registers pesticide or toxic substances and issues a certification of registration if it is satisfied that the pesticide or toxic substance is suitable and effective for the purpose for which it is intended without causing damage to the environment. The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources may by statutory order and in consultation with the ECZ ban or severely restrict the use of any pesticide or toxic substance specified. And, any pesticide or toxic substance banned under the regulation must be withdrawn from sale and other uses within six months of the date of the statutory order.
Zambia is also working on implementing Prior Informed Consent (PIC) and a pilot project on Sound Management of Chemicals with countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.
The PIC procedure;adopted through the FAO code of conduct and UNEP'S London guidelines;aims to provide sound information to importing countries on chemicals which are banned or severely restricted for health and environmental reasons. Under the PIC procedure, jointly operated by FAO and UNEP, importing countries have the opportunity to communicate their import decisions to exporting countries which in turn are expected to comply with all recorded decisions. Zambia has also been an active participant in the Inter-Governmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) and is in the process of strengthening its chemicals management scheme.
Zambia has been chosen as one of the pilot study countries (Zambia in Africa and Mexico in Latin America and the Caribbean) for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)/Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) National Profile Programme. The development of a national profile on chemicals management arises from concerns about effects on health and the environment as a result of use of chemicals.
At the Earth Summit, chapter 19 of Agenda 21 called for "the environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals, including the illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products." Six programme areas have been identified as crucial for implementation. The six programme areas would include expansion and acceleration of international assessments of chemical visits, harmonization of classification and labelling of chemicals, information exchange on toxic chemicals and chemical risks and establishment of risk reduction programmes. Other areas would be strengthening of capabilities for management of chemicals, and prevention of illegal international traffic in toxic and dangerous products.
The national profile is expected to document the existing infrastructure for general aspects of chemical management. It will also provide practical information on current activities related to the implementation of international agreements on ongoing technical assistance projects and other related issues. Furthermore, the national profile should initiate a process by which a country will be able to identify gaps in the existing legal, institutional, administrative and technical infrastructure related to chemical management and safety.
Once available, the national profile is expected to serve not only national decision makers but also international and bilateral cooperation agencies interested in providing technical assistance to support of national chemical management efforts. To achieve this, the ECZ is working with government officials, non-governmental organizations, professional bodies and research and learning institutions both within and outside the country.
According to the State of the Environment Report, pollution from pesticides and toxic substances was mostly due to lack of legislation. But although such legislation now exists, enforcement remains difficult due to a number of factors including the low level of public awareness about hazards associated with pesticides and toxic substances use.
Enforcement of the legislation will therefore heavily rely on changing public attitudes towards issues of pesticides and toxic substances. The report suggests the way forward is not simply to ensure legislation is enforced, but to put into place risk-reduction programmes of which public education should be a priority.
State of the Environment Report, Zambia: Environmental Council of Zambia, 1994.
The Environmental Protection and Pollution Control Act, 1990.
Pesticides and Toxic Substances Regulations, 1994.