What is thought to be the world's largest remaining stockpile of banned pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), left in Chattogram city for 37 years, has finally been removed.
DDT is toxic to humans and other organisms. It harms fertility and reproductive processes, disrupts hormonal systems, and is a probable carcinogen. As a persistent organic pollutant (POP), it accumulates in the bodies of humans and animals, as well as the wider environment.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) supported the government to dispose of the DDT safely and clean up the storage site in a complex international operation.
The final batch of repackaged DDT will be loaded onto a ship later this week and then the entire consignment will set sail for France where the waste will be incinerated at a specialist facility, the FAO said Wednesday.
France is one of only a handful of countries that can dispose of DDT safely and also allows the import of hazardous waste from other countries.
Bangladesh imported 500 tonnes (500,000kg) of the pesticide in 1985 to control malaria-carrying mosquitos but the consignment was deemed technically non-compliant. Upon arrival, it was put into a government compound, the medical sub-depot of the Directorate General of Health Services in Agrabad.
Over the years, many of the boxes and bags disintegrated leaving exposed piles of the white DDT powder. In 1991 Bangladesh imposed a DDT ban but the huge consignment remained.
FAO consultant Mark Davis, an expert on obsolete pesticides, said: "This is the largest amount of the pesticide removed from a single location that I'm aware of. It's also highly unusual in that it was stored in the middle of a city and because it was there for so long."
Since DDT does not break down, the consignment has the same concentration of active ingredients today as it did when it was manufactured.
Due to the urban location, special precautions were taken to ensure that the DDT removal operation did not create dust. The buildings were sealed and operated under negative air pressure to ensure that everything stayed inside.
Mark, who oversaw the operation, stressed the high safety standards of the removal and clean-up. "This is a large quantity of a dangerous substance stored in an urban environment. Our operation applied all necessary measures to ensure that nobody was exposed and that none of the chemicals spread into the environment. The safety standards applied were the same as they would have been in Europe."
Under the supervision of FAO experts and government officials, a specialist company based in Greece took four months to complete the repacking of the DDT at the site. In the hot and humid conditions, trained workers wearing full hazardous material protective suits worked alongside specialist machinery.