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Tue Nov 27, 2012, 09:44 AM

Siberia's pesticide dumps may prove a bigger hazard than nuclear waste


Poorly stored chemicals are a pollution risk in the Tomsk oblast, Siberia. Photograph: Alexander Natruskin/Reuters

At Tegul'det (population 3,000), a village in the south-east corner of Tomsk oblast, it takes a lot to upset the residents, busy hunting, fishing and preening their vegetable patches, except during the six long winter months, when their only distraction is cutting holes in the ice on the river and fishing.

Nothing really bothers Alexei, a retired FSB (former KGB secret police) major. Not even the mound of earth that looms just next to his home. Yet 20 tonnes of DDT are buried there, between the settlement and the river Chulym.

In the 1970s, when no one lived here, the local authorities thought that Tegul'det was an ideal spot to bury unwanted pesticide. DDT was produced in large quantities in the 1950s and 60s, until growing awareness of the hazards led to a ban on further use.

This left the question of what was to be done with the huge stockpile that had accumulated. Burying the stuff was cheap and easy. Furthermore Siberia was big. Tomsk oblast alone (316,000 sq km) is almost as large as the whole of Germany. The woodland, with its peat bogs and oil reserves, was sparsely populated.

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