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CBRN-COE
Project

Project 065: Strengthening chemical and biological waste management in Central Asia countries for improved security and safety risk mitigation

Context

Almost all of the Central Asian countries generate large amounts of hazardous waste, primarily from mining and manufacturing. Current waste generation in combination with legacy waste from mining and agriculture and soils contaminated with persistent organic pollutants (POPs) add up to a globally significant problem. The countries in the region have adopted some initiatives, but with Soviet assistance no longer available and with limited resources of their own, poorer countries are looking for donor support.

As parties to international conventions related to chemicals and waste, the countries of the region are making these a political priority. Increasingly, municipal waste is an issue in the Central Asian capitals and other major cities as they strive to maintain an image of cleanliness. Most of the hazardous waste in the region is located in desert areas with low populations, but some industrial towns also have their share. In the mountainous countries – where all the waste is upstream from the lowland countries – even small amounts of waste carry significant risks. Traditionally, the Central Asian countries and cities have opted for the simple solution to municipal waste problems – dumping of waste in landfills located on convenience of underground not too far from the sources. Many of these dumping grounds have long since passed their useful life, but continue in service. They tend to be poorly organized, with inadequate planning and engineering, no sorting, no inventories conducted and lacking in modern measures to make them safer. The focus was on maintaining clean cities; The dumping grounds were out of sight and out of mind. These primitive landfills also accepted transport, construction and food processing waste. Over time residential areas grew closer to the landfills, which now represent a health hazard in a number of cities.

The only waste compaction is carried out by bulldozers and intermediate covers are really installed. As a result these landfills typically have small fires the burn constantly releasing toxic substances. The inadequate compaction of the waste increases the washouts that cause erosion and releases into the environment. The countries lack the infrastructure to manage waste separation.

Businesses and individuals in Central Asia often do not recognise the potential hazards related to solvents and paints, and dispose of them with other waste thus adding to the environmental risks. Solvents are widely used – in dry cleaning, paint thinners, and in many other applications. Some are associated with toxicity to the nervous and reproductive systems, liver and kidney damage, respiratory problems and cancer, so their disposal demands particular care. 

The amount of e-waste is growing very fast. The problem was initially mainly thought to be an issue in developed countries, but in fact the volume of obsolete personal computers and mobile phones generated in developing countries has already exceeded that of developed countries. Central Asia is no exception to this trend: the number of mobile phone and personal computer users in the region has skyrocketed in the last decade. The content of much e-waste can be a risk to health and the environment: Considerable vigilance is required to guard against health or environmental risks when lamps containing mercury and cadmium, modern types of battery and other e-products are finally dismantled. Criteria are currently being developed for the labelling of nanomaterials under the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

There are no facilities with established procedures in Central Asia for separating waste in batteries, and no cultural awareness of the potential problems when e-waste is not managed properly. In some instances lamps with mercury content are compacted, the mercury extracted and the waste recycled, but no system exists for the return or disposal of used electronics such as mobile devices and computers. In recent years Uzbekistan has increased its capacities for disposing of lamps containing mercury. With an increased focus on green design globally, the amount of electronic waste is expected to decline over time.

The continued use of PCB's in capacitors and transformers is a key issue in Central Asia. PCB-containing equipment is currently being replaced.

In Central Asia the largest amount of industrial hazardous waste by volume or by geographic spread is mining waste. A growing proportion of hazardous waste comes from the cyanide used in gold processing. Incidents with such waste may result in cyanide and other chemicals being released. Hazardous waste from industrial processes may contain arsenic, lead, chromium and mercury.

Many pesticides are designed to be toxic to their target species. They can also be dangerous to others species, including humans, if they are not used according to the manufacturers' instructions. Pesticides were widely used in Central Asia in the Soviet years, especially on cotton crops. Their legacy persists not only in soil and water, but in the hundreds of dumping grounds and storage sites that still disfigure many communities. Some were built near airfields used for agriculture and on state and collective farms.

The excessive pesticide applications used in the drive for greater agricultural production 30 to 50 years ago left many rural areas in Central Asia polluted. Numerous agricultural airfields served as basis for the storage, mixing and distribution of agricultural chemicals, and as repositories of obsolete chemicals. The mercury and other pollution resulting from the industrial practices was not recognized as a problem, and producers and users made no efforts to contain these substances. The persistent organic pollutants from agriculture and the heavy metals from industry accumulated over time, and were released into the environment. Highly restricted military activities also used hazardous chemicals without recognizing potential dangers at that time, and the of the military became one of the problem sectors for pollution in Central Asia.

Over the last 20 years some polluting activities – such as mercury and led smelting – have continued. In addition, the region opened up to numerous new chemicals suppliers – China, the West and Russia. As the region received different chemicals from various sources, the control of chemicals became more difficult.

Monitoring declined, and other capacities diminished. The countries have, however, adopted international conventions and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management principles. Initiatives by the countries of Central Asia include keeping inventories of persistent organic pollutants and developing action plans on ozone depleting substances. The countries are also establishing chemical commissions to coordinate oversight activities, are bringing more attention to border control and customs to control the entry of chemicals and are adopting the international system of chemical labelling.

The cost of remediating former mining, industrial and agricultural waste sites can be prohibitive, and the number of sites is daunting. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, being poorer than their neighbours, tend to relay on donor funding, so assessing priority sites and solutions is very important. Numerous donors are offering help, ranging from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization through the World Bank, United Nations agencies and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to governments and universities. They have contributed to studies and better understanding of the environment and health risks associated with the legacy of mining waste, abandoned industrial sites using hazardous substances or generating radioactive waste and dumps of obsolete agricultural chemicals, since information was for many years limited or missing entirely. Now many of these legacy sites have been initially assessed, priorities are set and public awareness is being improved. In some places warning signs, fences or protective coverings were reinstalled. The next step is to identify funds and to design ways to prevent the further spread of pollution in the long run or at least to contain and properly remediate it.

Objectives

The overall objective of the project is as follows: strengthen existing chemical and biological waste management capabilities to ensure safe and secure collection, transportation, separation, processing, storage, disposal and inventory of hazardous CB waste originated by local industry (CB waste producers and CB waste management facilities), trade, agriculture, health care and past practices (dumping sites, historical industrial sites, former military bases etc.), as well as a consequence of emergency.

Stakeholders

Coordinators

European Commission

United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI)

Website
http://www.unicri.it

Participants

Fondazione per la Ricerca sulla Migrazione e sulla Integrazione delle Tecnologie (Foundation for Technology Migration and Research) (FORMIT)

Website
http://www.formit.org/

This project is part of a pre-existing EU activity in the regions and has not resulted from the submission of a CoE project proposal. Due to the different origin of the project, not all countries involved are CoE partner countries.

** This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

*** This designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of the Member States on this issue.