Earth, Wind and Organic Pollutants
“What can you do for the environment? Some of us limit energy consumption, some stop littering, and some start recycling. But we often ignore the problems inherited from our irresponsible actions in the past,“ says Paata Maisashvili from Rustavi.
Paata admits that it was not long ago that he became aware of the risks associated with the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). He is one among many who was specially trained and now engaged into excavating and repacking the POPs from the dump site in Iagluja under the framework of a joint UNDP and Global Environment Facility project.
He hopes that the work he is doing at the dump site will bring back to life the contaminated environment and make life safer for the neighboring villages.
The unknown threat
Persistent Organic Pollutants are one of the acute yet widely unknown environmental problems in Georgia. Throughout the 20th century, these harmful substances were used in many sectors of industry. In agriculture, pesticides containing POPs were employed to increase crop yields. Albeit immediate short term production boom, the highly toxic and long lasting substances easily evaporated into the environment posing significant threat to wildlife and human health. The substances are believed to be among the most potent cancer-causing chemicals. They are also linked with the reproductive, developmental, behavioral, neurologic, endocrine, and immunologic adverse health effects.
POPs are resistant to degradation.They remain in the living tissues of animals and people, and can transfer through generations. But what makes this problem truly global is that pollutants can travel through air, water, migratory birds. Even if a country does not produce, use or stock any of these pollutants, the threat of exposure is still high.
In 2001 world governments agreed upon the international treaty that aims to reduce and, as an end result, eliminate the production, use, release and storage of those chemicals. Over 150 countries have signed the Stockholm Convention, Georgia among them.
The usage of POPs was banned in Georgia in 1975 though the last authorized uses were finally phased-out in 1980. However, the old dump sites inherited from the 70’s and 80’s of the last century still exist in several regions of the country. Poorly managed throughout the decades, the pollutants leak from the stock piles into the soil and water, and affect the environment and people. Low awareness of the local population makes the risk even higher.
UNDP, with funds from the Global Environment Facility, works with the Government and local authorities to reduce the release of POPs from the stock piles and, wherever possible, evacuate the toxic substances from the country.
At Iagluja dump, the contaminated territory is fenced, and the movement of people and cattle strongly prohibited. The examination of the territory showed that around 60 thousand tons of the soil need to be remediated and 230 tons of pesticides excavated and later disposed at a specially designed site.
“The problem of Persistent Organic Pollutants has no boundaries; it affects us all,” says George Nikolaidis, engineer of the Greek company Polyeco, a leader in waste management.
Polyeco carries out the excavation and repacking of toxic chemicals at the Iagluja site. Later, POPs will be transported to France and Belgium and disposed in an environmentally sound manner.
”We need to get rid of these hazard for safer and healthier future for each of us,“George Nikolaidis says.
The works in Iagluja will be over in May 2014. But there is still a long way to go to make Georgia a POPs free country.