The government is finally going to start discharging of over 500 tonnes of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, which it imported from Pakistan 37 years ago to use as pesticide on agricultural land, in the next month, following the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Bangladesh ratified the convention in 2001, and afterwards it prepared a plan entitled 'National Implementation Plan on POPs' in 2007, under which it took some initiative to save the environment. Removing the toxic and sub-standard insecticide was one of them.
The hazardous powder kept at a warehouse of the health directorate at Agrabad will be destroyed in France, one of the few countries having capability of such a heavy-technical work, with assistance of The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
It may take at least four months to complete the discharging work, said Md Mostafa Kamal, secretary to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, at a preparatory workshop in Chattogram Saturday.
Md Moniruzzaman, additional secretary of the same ministry, Md Ashraf Uddin, director-general of the Department of Environment, and Robert D Simpson, FAO representative in Bangladesh, among others, were present at the event.
The FAO is assisting the government to carry out the discharging operation under its "Pesticide Risk Reduction in Bangladesh" project, jointly implemented by the Department of Environment and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
"The ministry and FAO will oversee the cleanup and safe disposal of this large stockpile of DDT which poses a health and environmental hazard. This toxic chemical has no use in modern agriculture or food processing any longer," said Robert D Simpson.
How DDT came to Chattogram?
The government imported the DDT from Pakistan in 1984 but the authorities found it sub-standard in quality. Therefore, the pesticide was kept used at the warehouse at Chattogram.
The government then asked the supplier, Messer's Exchange International Limited, to replace the chemical item immediately but it declined to do so.
Moreover, the company filed a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Bangladesh over the issue. The verdict anyhow went against Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, DDT was banned worldwide in 1991 as it was identified as harmful to public health and biodiversity.
How the hazardous power would be shipped
"The DDT removal is highly technical and requires specialties. Equipment procedures here must comply with national and international laws, rules and regulations," said Saso Martinov, the senior technical advisor of the project.
A Greece based specialist company – POLYECO SA – under strict controlled conditions will ship the waste through sea route. There will be 12 transits in the shipment.
A relief for local people
The local people thanked the government for the initiative as it will bring relief for them.
"Many people of the area already have faced consequences of the DDT stockpile. The move is definitely praise-worthy. It is a great relief for us," said Dr Mahmuda Sultana Afroza, a physician who works at a hospital near to the warehouse.
Due to the toxic chemical stock, thousands of city dwellers living within a kilometre and biodiversity there were at high risk of possible cancer and damage to the reproductive system.
Even the Doctor Dr Shafiual Alam Chowdhury, who performed duty for overseeing the hazardous DDT for a couple of decades, died of cancer in 2019.
The toxic fumes got mixed with the air outside through broken doors, windows and air ventilators. This has been contaminating the environment and putting thousands of people of the Agrabad area at risk.
Many international organisations representatives and experts have visited the warehouses several times. They termed it as a threat to environment and public health and repeatedly urged the government to remove it as early as possible.