Environmental and animal protection organizations of Ukraine have urged the Ministry for Ecology again to ban the use of such a terrible poison as zinc phosphide. The demand is that the ministry strike off the list of preparations based on this chemical compound. Environmentalists say stray dogs in Ukraine have been poisoned with this banned preparation for over 50 years. Experts say public utility services officially purchase this substance and hand it out to yard-keepers and public hygiene doctors who put phosphide into ground meat and thus kill animals. Moreover, the Ukrainian Association of Animal Protection Organizations almost every day receives letters and videos about the poisoning of cats and dogs.
ZINC PHOSPHIDE IS NOT REGISTERED IN UKRAINE, BUT FOUR COMPOUNDS BASED ON IT ARE OFFICIALLY ALLOWED
“Zinc phosphide, the so-called rat poison, is a steel-making waste product. It is usually used in this country for treating grain before sowing, or it is put into the soil where there may be rats or mice. Zinc phosphide is not officially registered, but, paradoxically, it forms the basis of four compounds made here and listed as those allowed to be used,” says Ivan Parnykoza, activist of the Green Future nature conservation squad. “Zinc phosphide is a weapon of mass destruction, for it has nonselective properties. It poses a fatal threat: coming into the body, this chemical compound provokes the formation of a gas that poisons the animal which dies in tremors and spasms within a few hours. Almost all the links of our ecosystem – starting from small rodents on the Ukraine Red Data List – fall victim to this preparation. They used to be pests, but now they are the endangered species. It is zinc phosphide that sealed the fate of these animals. Other animals, which eat these rodents, also fall victim to phosphide. As our colleagues told us, sometimes this also happens to the people who consume poisoned animals. Besides, there have been instances when people were intentionally poisoned with zinc phosphide. The conclusion is that a substance fatally dangerous to humans is easily available in Ukraine.”
According to Asia Serpinska, president of the Ukrainian Association of Animal Protection Organizations, these poisonings are the most terrible as far as the level of suffering is concerned. It is a long and excruciating death. Serpinska emphasizes that police either do not arrive on the call of the people who have found an animal that is writhing in a spasm or do not give a referral for an expert examination. Even if they do so (a very rare occasion), there still are problems with the laboratory: they say they lack reagents and testers or charge an exorbitant price. For this reason, animal protectors conclude “by sight” that the animal died of zinc phosphide – on the basis of spasms and foaming at the mouth. And while a young man has already been brought to justice in Ukraine for a cruel treatment of animals, no one has ever been punished for poisoning.
“All kiosks and market stalls openly sell preparations based on zinc phosphide. There are old women standing next to metro stations, who offer small packets with this poison to passers-by,” Serpinska says. “A few years ago there was a mass-scale poisoning of animals in Yalta’s zoo with zinc phosphide. In the Kyiv zoo, the well-known elephant Boy died of zinc phosphide, too. This chemical compound is banned in the European Union, as well as in Russia and Belarus. It is not officially produced here, either, – it is brought in from China and India, parceled up, and sold. It is only under the pressure of environmentalists that the Customs Office recently banned the import of zinc phosphide, but there is no guarantee that, even after the ban, it will not be smuggled to Ukraine. A very large quantity of it has already been brought to Ukraine – it is being sold in various places, advertised, and used. It is an officially approved poison used by public hygiene centers and public utility facilities. Naturally, there also are other, illegal, ways to poison dogs and cats. As of today, the Ministry of Ecology has registered seven preparations based on zinc phosphide. It is outrageous that, being aware of a tremendous danger that this terrible substance represents to the environment and people, this governmental agency willingly approves the use of it in Ukraine, whereas there are alternative pest control methods which are not dangerous to other living beings. It is, for example, the infecting of rodents with diseases or bio sterilization, when rodents are given anti-breeding preparations. Besides, their natural enemies can also be made use of. In any case, Europe and Russia can do without zinc phosphide.”
POISON KILLS NOT ONLY DOGS AND CATS, BUT ALSO MIGRATORY BIRDS THAT WINTER IN UKRAINE
Experts believe that zinc phosphide producers and the institutes and ministries that approve the use of it do not want to drop it because it is cheap (while the alternative costs too much) and brings in profits. But it is not only dogs and cats that suffer from this poison.
“Last winter our colleagues and we made a thousands-mile-long tour of Kherson and Odesa oblasts and saw hundreds of people pour zinc phosphide on the ground. They usually do this with scoops in the places where rodents are concentrated, near or in burrows. But the problem is not in this. The problem is that the Afro-Eurasian migration flyway crosses Ukraine. So twice a year – in the fall and in the spring – various species of geese fly over this country and sometimes winter here. Among them are some globally endangered species. They are under worldwide protection, and Ukraine, which has signed a number of international animal protection documents, is also to protect them. The geese peck this poisoned grain and die. Although the steppe occupies a very vast area and it is impossible to record all the instances, we know enough to be able to say that it is a wide-scale phenomenon. We remember that almost a thousand and a half geese died in Kharkiv oblast. It was found that zinc phosphide was the cause. Last year we worked on the north Crimean seashore and found 70 black geese – all that had been left. We are sure there had been more of them before, but they were easy prey to foxes and raccoon dogs,” says Vasyl Kostiushyn, a research associate at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology.
There was an event in the world-famous Askania-Nova reserve, which scientists call a vivid example of mass-scale extermination of Red List animals with zinc phosphide. There are some never-freezing ponds on its territory. Zoologists note that, as there is very heavy hunting in the steppe area, a poor goose that has decided to winter in Ukraine has only one option: after eating in the field, it has to spend the night in the reserve. And they die there. As many as 500 dead geese were once found on this territory. There was an investigation – the reserve’s administration turned to the law-enforcement authorities because they found the place where the geese had eaten (there was zinc phosphide there), but the case was left pending. Incidentally, some of the geese were rare species.
“From the viewpoint of protecting the birds that are on the verge of extinction and, in general, from the viewpoint of civilized countries, Ukraine looks rather a barbaric country. It is too bad that nobody wants to do anything. The worst thing is that the situation is only going to worsen: while at present environmentalists and animal protectors are being intimidated on the leased areas, nobody will have access to these places once the land is privatized. And nobody will see who and in what number is dying there and what chemicals are being used there. And there is in fact no control over the use of zinc phosphide in this country,” Kostiushyn continues. “As the preparation is applied on a wide scale – not only in the fall, but also in the winter, when there is no snow, – this creates the danger that any birds may be poisoned in a matter of an hour or two.”
Experts point out that the use of chemicals in agriculture is on the rise now, and there is a colossal difference between the way things were even in the Soviet era, when everything was under control, and the way they are today. For example, 1,200 varieties of pesticides are registered today in Ukraine by contrast with 455 in Europe. The situation is too critical to be ignored. For example, both the Ministry of Ecology and the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade have already paid attention to the phosphates that make part of most detergents. The latter ministry has also suggested that the share of phosphates in synthetic water-soluble cleaning agents be gradually reduced and their use be finally banned in 2020. The draft law “On State Regulation of Synthetic Cleaning Agents and Household Chemicals” has been posted on the ministry’s website. According to the document, the mass concentration of phosphates in terms of P205 will be not more than 17 percent from January 1, 2013; not more than 10 percent from January 1, 2015; and not more than 5 percent from January 1, 2018 onwards. It is suggested that the production, sales and marketing of phosphate-containing synthetic water-soluble cleaning agents and household chemicals on Ukraine’s customs territory be banned on January 1, 2020.
But, for some reason, officials ignore the problem of zinc phodphide proliferation. “Are they unable to distinguish between phosphates and phosphides?” asks Volodymyr Boreiko, director of the Kyiv Ecological Culture Center. Experts are also convinced that it is very easy – just by instruction of the Ecology Minister – to ban the use of a mass-destruction poison.
On September 6, nature conservation and animal protection organizations of Ukraine picketed the Cabinet of Ministers, urging it to ban the use of zinc phosphide. There has been no reaction yet, so environmentalists are going to march to the Ministry of Ecology to make their demands heard. Then they will take legal action because the use of phosphides is in breach of two international nature conservation conventions and three laws of Ukraine. “We have won all the eight suits against the nature ministry,” the environmentalists say optimistically.