After 19 years of storage in Suez’s Adabiya Port, Egypt is finally disposing of a 220-ton toxic shipment that has been a thorn in the country’s side for far too long.
After arriving through a fake company in 1998, the shipment was abandoned in the transit area. Its discovery prompted legal investigations carried out by various institutions, including the Ministry of Environment, before the shipment could be disposed of properly by Egypt’s Sustainable Management of Persistent Organic Pollutants project.
Given the nearly two-decade time frame, the story sounds unbelievable. But a closer look at the toxic shipment’s content shows just how dangerous the ordeal really was.
A Serious Health and Environmental Threat
The highly-hazardous shipment is an expired pesticide called Lindane. Being a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP), the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, to which Egypt is a signatory, has restricted the substance.
The danger of POPs comes from their detrimental impact on human health and—as their name suggests—their persistence in the environment.
Lindane has chemical properties that makes it highly resistant to environmental degradation. As a result, the substance can persist in the ecosystem for decades. The toxic substance persists in water, soil and even animal bodies.
Besides persisting in the ecosystem, Lindane has devastating health effects on humans. This neurotoxin affects the nervous system, liver and kidneys. The severity of the effects depends on the level of exposure. Not to go without mentioning, Lindane is also a cancerogenic substance.
Those properties would create nothing short of an environmental disaster in the event of a contamination.
A Complicated Process
The shipment arriving at Adabiya Port twenty years ago seemed easy. However, getting rid of the shipment is a whole different story.
Logistically and legally speaking, shipping a huge amount of such a high-risk substance is very complicated. Both transferring the substance and disposing of it requires specialized expertise.
Besides the complexity of shipping and disposing of the substance, there are legal complications as well.
According to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the exporter of such a high-risk, hazardous shipment has to obtain transit permits from all the countries through which the shipment will pass on its journey to its final destination. This includes countries in which the shipment will pass through their waters.
Given all the complications, it wasn’t until 2014 that the project was able to get the green light, thanks in part to a $8.1 million grant from the World Bank and $15 million in financial and logistical support from the Egyptian government.
"The process has been carried out in accordance with the highest international standards, European requirements and Egyptian national legislation," said Katelijn Van den Berg, Environmental Specialist at the World Bank and team leader from World Bank’s side. "Following the re-packaging, transport and disposal of the lindane shipment, other POPs stored in other sites will be disposed of. Samples of these materials are being analyzed for re-packaging and safe disposal."
After obtaining all the necessary agreements and spending tens of millions of dollars, the joint efforts of the Egyptian Ministry of Environment and the World Bank have finally paid off.
With the dangerous shipment being shipped to France for disposal in special furnaces, the 19-year threat is finally over.
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