Bad for America, good for East Africa
New African Magazine
December 01, 2010
For decades, Africa has been seen as a dumping ground for toxic waste and other agro chemicals and pharmaceutical products banned in the West. For three months earlier this year, our Kenyan correspondent, Wanjohi Kabukuru, followed the trail in East Africa of one such chemical imported from the USA, and what he found was shocking. The chemical had been banned in the USA in 1991, but was on sale in East Africa until late 2009. Here is his report.
If Furadan is not safe enough for use in America, then it is not safe enough for us in Africa, says the world-renowned conservationist Richard Leakey. For decades, a US agro-chemical giant has been knowingly exporting for sale a highly restricted chemical to the East African Community (EAC) countries - Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
The chemical trading as Furadan but well-known scientifically as carbofuran was on sale in Kenya until late 2009. It was imported as a “seed dressing agent for control of soil dwelling and foliar-feeding insects” by the local distributor. Furadan is both an insecticide and nematicide and it is at the centre of a bitter row pitting environmental conservationists on the one side against agro-chemical traders and the government of Kenya on the other.
There are two forms of the pesticide, granular and liquid. The granular form was phased out in the US by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1991.
Before it was withdrawn from the Kenyan market in 2009, the granular Furadan, which retailed at $1.25, had allegedly decimated wildlife in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. This potent chemical is used for eradicating pests on potatoes, soya beans, cotton, maize and other crops. It is banned in Canada and in the EU, and in May 2009 America`s EPA revoked all “pesticide tolerances [and uses] for carbofuran” as of 31 December of that year. “EPA encourages growers to switch from [liquid] carbofuran to safer pesticides or other environmentally preferable pest control strategies,” the agency said in a statement. “Since the tolerances are revoked, EPA reminds growers that carbofuran should not be used on any food crops after 31 December 2009. Use of carbofuran after this date would result in adulterated food products, which would be subject to appropriate enforcement by the Food and Drug Administration.”
The US company, however, challenged the EPA ruling. In Kenya, Furadan was only withdrawn from the shelves in 2009 after complaints from conservationists and farmers. According to the records of Kenya`s pesticide regulator, the Pesticide Control and Produce Board (PCPB), carbofuran (the main ingredient of Furadan), which was registered in Kenya in 1989, was banned in Kenya in 2004.
Questions arise. Why then did the PCPB allow its importation into Kenya after it had been phased out in the country of origin and banned in Canada and in the EU? What did the PCPB stand to gain by allowing that chemical to be sold under a new name?
In a three-month investigation across East Africa, this writer has been asking these questions. I put some of them to the US agro-chemical company, PCPB, Kenya`s secretary for agriculture, and the director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), but my questions have not been answered to this day.
Incidentally both the PCPB and the US firm bowed under pressure when the Kenyan environmental lobby, Wildlife Direct, led by Dr Leakey, began an international campaign against Furadan. The US company, noting the backlash and afraid of the consequences, officially stopped sending “additional” Furadan to Kenya in 2008, but the batches already in the system remained on sale till 2009. In Tanzania and Uganda, sales were equally stopped in 2009. With an annual gross revenue of $3.1bn, the US giant had a reputation to protect.
The company went ahead and set up a special website on Furadan (www.furadanfacts.com), which sought to allay fears generated by the international concern. The website shows how the US firm has reacted to the allegations of Furadan`s misuse in Kenya: “When allegations surfaced in the spring of 2008 in the Maasai Mara region, we immediately stopped the introduction of any additional Furadan into the sales channel in Kenya. In addition, we conducted our own investigation led by a senior toxicology manager. We also offered technical assistance to the Kenyan government official investigation. Both investigations concluded that there was no connection between the deaths of the lions and Furadan,” the company defends itself.
But Dr Paula Kahumbu, the executive director of Wildlife Direct, castigates the PCPB. “Their strategy is to plug their ears and shut their eyes; and since they cannot hear or see anything, they declare that pesticides are not causing any problems in Kenya. In our view, this is troubling and irresponsible behaviour, because the health of millions of Kenyan farmers, consumers and nature in general are affected.”
An angry and frustrated Kahumbu doesn`t stop there: “The PCPB does not even have a functioning laboratory. They told us that they have only just built and equipped a lab, but it is not yet functional. When reports are made, the PCPB does not take action. In fact, they have never acknowledged receipt of reports from us on pesticide poisoning. To date the PCPB has refused to consider toxicological results from tests done by the government chemist; they insist that they should be involved in collecting samples. Yet they have never responded to any incident report that we have sent. They tell us that they have budget and human resource constraints.”
Did the US giant stop Farudan exports to Kenya of its own volition? Far from it. Facing a public relations groundswell from wildlife conservationists, the company was given help for damage control by the PCPB after the US media began to sniff around. It declined, however, to appear on CBS News` 60 Minutes programme, but instead offered a written response to its producer Michael Gavshon. Dated 13 February 2009, this reads in part: “[The company] works diligently to address any incidences of misuse of its products. When allegations surfaced last year that carbofuran may have been used to poison wild-
“ What the US firm and the pesticide regulator have not explained is that if Furadan was `clean`, why did they stop the sales of the chemical?”
life in the Maasai Mara, the company, out of an abundance of caution, immediately suspended the export of Furadan to Kenya. We also immediately offered technical assistance to Kenya`s Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) in conducting their investigation.
“The PCPB is the government agency in charge of regulating pesticide products and, in that regard, is the Kenyan equivalent of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Subsequent to the PCPB`s investigation, we dispatched a senior regulatory toxicology manager to conduct an investigation of our own into the allegation and product stewardship.
“The PCPB also investigated other suspected misuses of carbofuran. In 2004 and 2005, there were reported poisonings of lions in the Laikipia area. The PCPB... found that strychnine, not carbofuran, was the cause. In 2006 in Tsavo West, there were more suspected illegal baitings. Again, a PCPB investigation found the presence of a carbamate and an organochlorine in the stomach contents of the dead lions. No carbofuran was detected.
“[The company] does not disclose sales and volumes figures...but we would characterise our Furadan sales as `modest` in
Kenya.” From this response, Furadan appears squeaky clean, but is it? A joint study dubbed “Soil and water contamination with carbofuran residues in agricultural farmlands in Kenya following Furadan application”, by the Ornithology Department of the National Museum of Kenya (NMK), the Chemistry Department of Maseno University, and the German National Research Centre for Environmental Health, released this year, makes some startling findings.
“Soil, water and plant samples obtained from agricultural farmlands where Furadan is used extensively showed high environmental contamination with concentrations of carbofuran and its two toxic metabolites, 3-hydrocarbofuran and 3ketocarbofuran,” the study revea l s. “Furadan 350ST liquid is also marketed and used in dressing barley seeds...more than 23 tonnes of granules and 15,000 litres of concentrate are imported annually.
“Carbofuran has high water solubility, can leach easily and Furadan granules can easily be exposed to small birds, mammals and invertebrates in agricultural fields as well as to large predators and scavengers through food chain transfer. Furadan threat to wildlife, notably birds, has been Concerns over carbofuran, in the form of Furadan, encompass the effects of its use on the environment, birds and mammals in East Africa reported in South Africa and Uganda with many cases involving both direct and indirect poisoning of different vulture species.
“In Kenya, Furadan poisoning has affected birds, hyenas, camels, lions and hippos. The large number of reported cases of Furadan poisoning and misuse by farmers and pastoralists has sparked off strong lobbying against Furadan use in the country, fronted by wildlife conservationists and the National Museum of Kenya calling for its ban,” the report recounts.
Joseph Lalah, a chemist at Maseno University who participated in the study, affirms the findings: “I can tell you for a fact that Furadan is killing birds on our farmlands. In all the samples we collected and conducted toxicological tests on, the traces of Furadan were there.”
There is more. The paper “Decline of raptors over a three-year period in Laikipia, Central Kenya”, conducted by Darcy Ogada and Felicia Keesing, published this year in the Journal of Raptor Research, makes it abundantly clear that raptors, which are listed in the IUCN “Red List of Threatened Species”, are even more in danger from carbofuran exposure:
“Tests on soil, water and plant samples in Laikipia district have shown high contamination with concentrations of carbofuran and its two toxic metabolites. Recent studies have also implicated carbofuran in the poisoning of African white-backed and other vultures throughout Kenya.”
What the US company and PCPB have refused to tell the world is that if Furadan was “clean” as they claim, why did they stop the sales of the chemical? Secondly, why did the company initiate a buy-back programme of Furadan in Kenyan veterinary shopping outlets in March 2010?
The Furadan saga has brought to the fore the issue of toxic dumping in Africa.
“Stop using us as a dumping ground,” is a complaint that has resurfaced all over. Back in 1977, during a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) meeting, the then Kenyan minister for water development, Dr Julius Kiano warned: “Kenya detests the use of developing countries as experimental dumping grounds for chemical products that have been banned or have not been adequately tested.”
But the trend never stopped. In 1981, investigative reporters David Weir and Mark Schapiro wrote the highly illuminating book “Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World”, which revealed how Western multinational chemical giants dumped obsolete, banned, and highly restricted chemicals in the developing world irrespective of the dangers.
In 1992, the then executive director of UNEP, Dr Mostafa Tolba, accused the Italian Mafia of dumping toxic waste off the Somali coast. In 2008 his claims were echoed by the then UN representative in Somalia, Ould-Abdalla, who said: “I am convinced there is dumping of solid waste, chemicals and probably nuclear waste. There is no government [in Somalia] and there are few people with high moral ground. It is a disaster off the Somali coast, for the environment and the population.”
Last year in an inter view with Al Jazeera, Tolba recalled: “At the time, it felt like we were dealing with the Mafia, or some sort of organised crime group, possibly working with these industrial firms. It was very shady, and quite underground, and I would agree with Ould-Abdalla`s claims that it is still going on... Unfortunately the war has not allowed environmental groups to investigate this fully.”
A June 2010 report by the environmental watchdog, Greenpeace, titled “The toxic ships: The Italian hub, the Mediterranean area and Africa”, traced the Mafia links to Somali toxic dumping. The report concluded: “Greenpeace believes that the UN must carry out an independent assessment on the alleged dumping of toxic and radioactive waste in Somalia, particularly in the area of the port of Eel Ma`aan.
“The EU must finally implement its own toxic waste prevention measures, a pillar of its waste policy. The Italian government must create coordination among all the investigative authorities (Procura della Repubblica) which have been, and still are, working on the issue of toxic and radioactive waste trade, to identify and neutralise the network of people and enterprises managing the illegal trade, [and waste that is] shipped to developing countries, with the help of criminal networks and the support of state civil servants.”
The $1.3m fine imposed on the oil trader Trafigura by an Amsterdam court in July 2010 for dumping toxic waste in Côte d`Ivoire underscores how Western conglomerates view Africa, as a dumping ground. It is a sad reality indeed.
© Copyright IC Publications 2010.