Month: February 2003

Obsolete Stockpiles in South Africa – Disposal with a cure

As the eagle was killed by the arrow winged with his own feather, so the hand of the world is wounded by its own skill.
Helen Keller (1880-1968)

It was in February that the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) held a workshop for the development of a National Implementation Plan (NIP) for the management of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and strategies to clean up and prevent future accumulation of unwanted stocks of pesticides under the Africa Stockpiles Programme (ASP). The ASP was, initially initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) to clean up stockpiled pesticides and pesticide-contaminated waste (e.g., containers and equipment) in Africa in an environmentally sound manner; catalyze development of prevention measures; and provide capacity building and institutional strengthening on important chemicals-related issues.

Since South Africa had been selected as one of the recipient countries to receive grants from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to develop strategies for the management of POPs, but in the form of NIPs. It was understood that the feedback received from participants by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) during the meeting would be feed into a draft document to be submitted to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) for funding of phase one, which was the inventory phase. Information was also needed for the developmental phase, preparatory phase, disposal phase, prevention phase, capacity building and grant agreement negotiations.

The meeting I attended was held at the Holiday Inn Garden Court, Pretoria. Upon arrival, I was disappointed to see that not many stakeholders had been invited to or had attended the workshop considering that the accumulation of obsolete pesticides in South Africa is such a contentious issue and that the urgent cleanup of obsolete pesticides and associated waste and the prevention of further accumulation in African countries requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Of the stakeholders present, only four were from civil society. Surprisingly, none of the Unions such as farmers and farm workers were present since it is these individuals who may be able to substantially contribute to the stockpile inventory if we are to end up with a comprehensive stockpile database for disposal.

The honourable deputy minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Rejoice Mabudafhasi gave the opening address at the meeting. I was glad to hear the minister state that the ASP process does not seek to apportion blame or punish those who declare their stocks, but that all multi-stakeholders should focus on prevention of future accumulation, which is as important as disposal of existing stockpiles.

I was disappointed to see that the agenda for the workshop, under the section disposal phase, that non-burn technologies were not included as an option. I was also flabbergasted to see incinerator vendors present at the meeting and that they were given a slot to present their thermal treatment. I shook my head in dismay and considered this unacceptable considering that since the beginning of the ASP, public interest groups have voiced their concerns over the project pushing for the burning of these wastes in incinerators since incinerators contribute substantially to global pollution by producing deadly poisons such as dioxins and furans. It was iniquitous that private companies were present at the meeting presenting thermal technology before the inventory was complete and before we know what types of waste we are dealing with.

I thought that it would be ironic if Africa was left standing with a new legacy of polluting incinerators set up to destroy an earlier legacy caused by pesticides dumped on Africa by aid and trade organizations. Also, since our South African government has ratified the Stockholm Convention, it is imperative that dirty technology be phased out.

At the meeting, NGO’s had voiced their concerns about the “flaw” of the agenda with regard to the deliberate omission of non-combustion technologies. The FAO was unimpressed and viewed some NGO’s as disrupting the process. The FAO at the meeting had stated that comments on the draft agenda were sent out to participants in December. However, no agenda was sent out to groundWork, and one cannot make comments on a document if it has not been received. Whether this act was deliberate seemed questionable. Was it that certain organizations would disrupt the rubber-stamping decisions that were already made? Was incineration already considered as an option for the disposal of pesticides? Whatever the reason, it must be a goal that incineration must not be allowed as an option for disposal in the ASP process, since internationally, there has been a move away from this polluting technology. This has been true for countries such as America, India, Greece, Germany, France, Turkey, Japan, The Netherlands, Costa Rica and the Phillipines.

Personally, I found the meeting attended to be rushed and conducted simply to meet a submission deadline within a week from the meeting. If in future deliberations, this is indeed to be the case, then civil society organizations would have serious reservations about an apparent ‘steam-rolling’ process, considering the fact that a multi-stakeholder approach to the ASP is required. I am sure that civil society would rather be involved in and support the process rather than seeing it progressing hastily. It is advisable that the FAO be more cautious as to how the process progresses rather than scurry for deadlines.

However, despite some of the disagreements during the meeting, some positive positions seemed to have emerged. What came through clear was that delegates saw the ASP process as an opportunity to develop a model for other countries in the region and an opportunity for South Africa suppliers to supply materials and services to other countries involved in the ASP. There was a clear drive from all delegates that where possible South African expertise and capacity should be used to achieve the aims of both ASP and NIP, with a minimum amount of input from external suppliers/consultants. Finally, it was felt that the ASP and NIPs projects should provide an opportunity for RSA to demonstrate their commitment to fulfil their obligations as stated under the international conventions.

My problem, but not in my back yard: Pushing polluting technologies to the South

‘I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted’

Lawrence Summers, chief economist of the World Bank, explaining why toxic wastes should be exported to Third World countries

For years polluting technologies such as incinerators, which have been rejected in the north have been pushed to developing countries. Due to health effects and public pressure, since 1995, dirty technologies such as incinerators in the US have been stopped. Due to this rejection in their own country, incinerator makers are pushing their deadly wares into developing countries such as Africa, where health and environmental regulations are lax.

The United States has been the power dog in the globalisation arena. In fact, no other period in human history has one country had as much direct and indirect global influence as the United States does today, reaching even into the most remote areas on our own African continent. The U.S. government has even facilitated exports of incinerators under the guise of “technology transfers” and “environmental exchanges.” A number of proposals for incinerators have taken place and are currently on the table in Africa, which are being pushed and funded by the United States.

US links with incinerators in SA
It was in February that I was invited to attend a meeting by Rainbow Millennium Power Company in Richards Bay. The meeting was to introduction stakeholders to a proposal to develop a 210 Megawatt power plant in Richards Bay. The project was to be funded by the United States Trade and Development Agency (US TDA). The TDA was said to provide a $534,000 grant to Rainbow Millennium for an $889,543 study. I heard that Rainbow Millennium and the U.S. study contractor Black and Veatch Corporation of Overland Park Kansas was to cover the remaining costs.

At the meeting, I was not surprised to see that the applicant for the project had tried to cover up the fact that the technology being proposed was an incinerator by hiding it behind a label called “circulation fluidised bed technology” However, I was glad to see that civil society had raised the issue that the proposal was an incinerator. This shows that civil society is beginning to understand the environmental and health effects that incinerators pose and that industry and domineering countries such as the US should not dictate to developing nations.

I was quite impressed to hear members of civil society questioning the applicants on health effects of the proposed power plant. Mercury seemed to be one of the concerns during the tea breaks from informal discussions amongst groups. This was important considering that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recently stated that 70% of mercury emissions of human origin come from coal-fired power stations. Yet the technology to eliminate most of them already exists.

Other United States links with developing incinerators in South Africa include that of Peacock Bay Environmental Services (PBES) in Sasolburg and their proposal to build a hazardous waste facility, Mondi Paper in South Durban for the construction of a fluidised bed incinerator, the possible hazardous waste incinerator at Thor Chemicals in Cato Ridge and the proposed Kwikpower incinerator at Solid Waste Technologies.

World Bank and incineration promotion
During the course of last year, I was shocked by the results conducted by Essential Action into its survey of the World Bank Group (WBG) and its promotion of incineration. What was striking was despite the known health hazards and extreme economic burdens of incineration, the WBG continues to promote this dirty technology. It was shocking to see that at least 156 projects in 68 countries since 1993 and 26 projects since 2001 have included incineration. groundWork has sent a letter to our regional WBG to highlight our concerns over the WBG promotion of incinerators in South Africa. Projects in South Africa funded by the WBG for incineration include those of Lesidi hospital Proprietary Limited, AEF Florarcadia Private Limited, AEF Dialysis Centre, HIS Technologies (PTY) Limited and Foxtrot Meat Processors CC.

The mere fact that the WBG promotes incineration undermines the objectives of the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty. It is imperative that if the WBG wants to dispel its many critics that claim that it only promotes the interest of multinational corporations, then it must institute operational policies that will prohibit projects that include waste incineration as well as prohibit projects that do not comply with the U.N Convention on POPs.

Finally, as the anti-globalisation movement gathers steam worldwide, and continues to incorporate environmentalism into its general philosophy, it is hoped that through continued awareness and pressure from civil society that the concept of globalisation will be dismantled.
Developing countries cannot afford to sit back and accept the agendas of developed countries or else, our biggest environmental problems will come from our own actions and the choices we make.