Documents obtained under freedom of information rules show how UK-based chemical companies notified the export of multiple hazardous pesticides that are banned from use on the UK’s own farms and fields in 2020.
The findings have been published as part of a new investigation by Unearthed and Public Eye.
Prohibited pesticides exported
The investigation found that UK companies exported seven different banned agrochemicals overseas in that year, and submitted applications to export a further six – a much wider range of prohibited pesticides being shipped from the UK than previously revealed.
They included weedkillers containing paraquat, a notoriously dangerous herbicide that has caused tens of thousands of deaths across the world from acute poisoning; insecticides containing imidacloprid, a controversial ‘neonicotinoid’ that was banned in the UK because of the serious damage it can cause to bee populations; and a fungicide called propiconazole, banned after it was found capable of harming babies in the womb.
There are also concerns about the threat of groundwater contamination by breakdown products of propiconazole, and that the chemical caused ‘toxic effects on the endocrine organs’.
Syngenta notified planned exports of propiconazole to Kenya and Tunisia, in mixtures also containing chlorothalonil. This fungicide was banned at the same time, despite being the most heavily used pesticide in the UK, due to concerns including groundwater contamination, damage to DNA and a ‘high risk to amphibians and fish’.
Exporting hazardous chemicals
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which regulates UK exports of prohibited chemicals, has confirmed that in that year British exporters shipped pesticide products overseas containing 12,240 tonnes of chemicals banned from use in UK fields.
UK-based companies notified exports of agricultural products containing those chemicals to 20 different countries; four-fifths of those intended destinations were low- or middle-income countries (LMICs) such as Brazil, Colombia and India, where experts say hazardous pesticide use poses the greatest risks.
However, by far the UK’s biggest intended destination for these exports by weight was the United States, mainly due to an enormous planned shipment of paraquat.