Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA) Demonstration Project in Russia

The Arctic Contaminants Action Plan (ACAP, which later became Arctic Contaminants Action Program in 2006) started working on safe storage of Northern Russian obsolete pesticides in 2001. The project addressed 13 regions of the Russian Federation that either were directly located by the Arctic Ocean or had an indirect route to the Arctic via rivers. By 2013, 7 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides had been repackaged and, where necessary, removed into safer regional storages by the local experts.

The ACAP project on obsolete pesticides at that stage did not address the potential pollution of the surroundings of thousands of storages. These former storages were of varying type and shape, from barns in former collective farms to simple shacks in the outskirts of human settlements. With improved packaging and removal of pesticides the main hazard was removed, but unknown amounts of pesticides might have contaminated the building materials and leached into soils around storages.

The Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA) is a tool developed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for prioritizing pesticide contaminated sites for further intervention. The ACAP REA project was initiated to demonstrate the use of this methodology / tool, and train experts to use it in three pilot regions: Arkhangelsk Oblast, Komi Republic and Krasnoyarsk Krai. All these regions received support from ACAP for pesticide storage improvements between 2004-2012.

Major findings:

  • The number of old and unsafe storage facilities are many in the Russian Federation in the Arctic region. The results indicate that the pesticides management activities provided results and that only limited pollution is detected in surroundings.
  • The remaining pollution of the 2 analyzed groups of toxic substances (DDT and its transformation products and HCH and its isomers) is mainly below the Russian limit values at these 9 sites.
  • The investigators found contamination that exceeded the safety standards established in Russia for DDD, a transformation product of DDT, only at one out of 9 assessed former pesticide storages.
  • These results show that REA methods could be used to conduct inventory of sites potentially contaminated with pesticides at reasonable costs. The project demonstrated the use of the tools and trained experts to continue assessments of remaining storages in the regions.
  • The pilot project should preferably be followed up at the national level with a specific program to clean-up similar sites by applying these tools.

Tools and methods applied

The rapid environmental assessments followed REA and TSIP protocols. The investigators completed physical descriptions for each site, identified the sources of contamination, estimated the migration of the pollutants and exposure pathways, assessed population at risk. The investigators took topsoil samples at each site, recorded sampling coordinates, took photos and prepared maps. According to the protocol, pesticides that are suspected to be present at the site based on the desk study, are analyzed in the laboratory. If the investigators find some labels, particular colorations, smells that indicate particular pesticides left, during the fieldwork, tests are extended to those as well. Based on available information on the selected sites two groups of the most important typical organochlorine pesticides, DDT and HCH were analyzed. There might be other substances left, but the monitoring was limited to these substances. The descriptions of sites and documents were uploaded to the online database.

More detailed site descriptions and assessment reports can be found in Appendix 5 of the project report.

The REA project has built capacity to prioritize and identify storage sites where further intervention might be necessary through desk study, sampling and laboratory analysis, in a cost-efficient manner.