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Thursday, 03 December 2020

Working against ‘forever chemicals’

Mahmoud Bakr , Saturday 14 Mar 2020
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Northern Jade ship leaving Dekheila Port, Alexandria, carrying the last Egyptian shipment of Saff’s hazardous pesticides
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Residents of Giza’s Saff district now have cleaner air after the Ministry of Environment, through a project for the sustainable management of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), sometimes known as “forever chemicals”, removed 470 tons of hazardous pesticides from the residential district.

The pesticides had been stored in a warehouse in Giza. Along with the waste resulting from transporting the pesticides. The dangerous materials were taken to Sweden and France, two countries possessing the latest technologies to get rid of hazardous waste.

POPs have been the cause of the Ministry of Environment’s ire since 2004, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) have often warned of the dangers of POPs to human health in the long term.

The ministry’s plan to get rid of POPs in Egypt started when the government signed the Stockholm Accord in 2004. This led to a project for the integrated management of POPs funded by the Global Environmental Innovation Fund (GEIF) and implemented by the World Bank to improve institutional and technical capacities for environmental management and the establishment of an integrated system of POPs management to maintain public health and achieve sustainable development.

The ministries of the environment and agriculture had earlier put the POPs together in one place in preparation for their safe disposal in accordance with international standards. “For 30 years, POPs have been a ticking bomb. That we have now disposed of them is proof that we can manage the problem of managing solid waste,” said the Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad.

Fouad reviewed ministry efforts to safely dispose of hazardous waste, saying that it is currently working on a strategy for the integrated management of hazardous waste and the implementation of Egypt’s obligations under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

“The ministry is also working to raise people’s awareness as they are key partners in efforts to preserve the environment. In the near future, the ministry will launch an e-waste management strategy,” she added.

The Ministry of Environment is cooperating with multiple bodies on the subject. “The ministry is coordinating with the Ministry of Communications to dispose of e-waste, with the Ministry of Health to get rid of medical waste, with the Ministry of Electricity to get rid of waste from power transformers, and with the Ministry of Agriculture to dispose of pesticides,” Fouad said.

These efforts do not only aim at abiding by international regulations, said the minister, who emphasised that the priority was to protect people’s health.

Ahmed Abdel-Hamid, manager of the project for the sustainable management of POPs, said it had studied the environmental characteristics of the Giza area and analysed samples of groundwater, soil and air in the warehouse and surrounding areas. Technicians were trained to deal with the disposal of POPs, and POPs in storage were placed in special bags and barrels marked with the United Nations seal, meaning the international body’s standards were followed in disposal procedures, he said.

The project sought the assistance of international companies and experts on POPs through the announcement of a tender, as per the regulations of the World Bank, which has been supervising the project.

Abdel-Hamid said “workers were trained theoretically and in practice on how to deal with liquid and solid waste. They were provided with the gear necessary for their safety before we embarked on the project.”

Legal measures were taken and permits acquired to transfer the Giza cargo out of Egypt to be burnt in high-tech furnaces in Sweden and France. In total, “the project has succeeded in safely disposing of more than 690 tons of pesticides and hazardous waste in addition to 220 tons stored in the Al-Adabiya Port in Suez after it had arrived in Egypt in an anonymous transit shipment.”

The project is still working on the collection and safe disposal of 350 tons of pesticides, which are dangerous and stored in several areas. It is also working on the safe disposal and treatment of electricity transformer oils contaminated with PCBs, considered by the Stockholm Convention to be a dangerous substance.

“The projected has collected 1,000 tons of PCBs and is currently trying to bring mobile units to either treat the PCBs or get rid of the material safely,” Abdel-Hamid said.

Mohamed Abdel-Meguid, chairman of the Pesticides Committee at the Ministry of Agriculture, said Egypt had stopped importing PCBs since 1972. However, as a result of their accumulation over the years, it was necessary to dispose of what had been imported before that safely.

*A version of this article appears in print in the  12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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