The country's port city Chattogram has got relief from the burden of over 500 tonnes of stockpiled toxic pesticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, well known as DDT, after 38 years with the last consignment taken for shipment to France for destruction.
The containers, carrying the remaining DDT, were transported from the health directorate's warehouse at Agrabad to a container depot on Wednesday and are scheduled for leaving Chattogram Port on Friday (2 December), officials said at a press conference at the Radisson Blu Chattogram Bay View.
Two consignments were shipped earlier on 30 October and 17 November this year to France – one of the few countries having the capacity to destroy DDT which involves heavy technical work.
"The DDT removal began in 2020 and ended today. The entire process has been completed under the direct supervision of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations," Farhima Ahmed, secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, told the event, which was also attended by Shipping Secretary Md Mustafa Kamal.
"In 1985, some 500 tonnes of pesticides were imported in Bangladesh to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Besides, the chemical complex of Chattogram's Barabakund had about 100 tonnes, which were later transferred to the warehouse," said Mustafa Kamal.
"We have managed to remove the toxic DDT after a struggle of 14 years. In the meantime, many people have been affected by cancer. DDT has even been found in breast milk. These adverse effects of DDT might be seen from generation to generation. So we have to work further to protect people and the environment from DDT effects."
Taking part in the event, FAO Senior Technical Adviser Mark Davis, said, "Removing 500 tonnes of DDT from a populated place like Chattogram was somewhat dangerous. So we have completed this work very carefully, with all safety measures. We followed European Safety Standards."
"The workers who worked on the project are well-trained. All of them have been brought under life insurance; their health protection will be followed up in the future."
"However, it is impossible to completely get rid of the DDT contamination from the area as the toxic chemical was kept here for about 40 years," he said, adding that a study will be conducted soon to figure out ways of protecting local people's health.
FAO Representative in Bangladesh Robert D Simpson termed the DDT removal a big achievement and said, "there is still a long way to go to reduce the use of harmful pesticides in Bangladesh."
How DDT came to Chattogram?
The government imported the DDT from Pakistan in 1985 but the authorities found it sub-standard in quality. Therefore, the pesticide was kept 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 went against Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, DDT production was banned worldwide in 1989 as its uses were limited by an international agreement, titled "Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants."
Bangladesh ratified the convention in 2001, and afterwards, it prepared a $3 million project, "National Implementation Plan on POPs", in 2007, under which it took the initiative to remove the hazardous insecticide from Chattogram as well as the country.
In the meantime, the toxic fumes leaked from the stockpile through broken doors, windows and air ventilators got mixed with the air outside and contaminated the environment, putting lives and biodiversity at risk.