Umidjon Ulugov, Tajikistan, Central Asia

The main source of pollution, in about 60% of all sites, are obsolete pesticides from the agriculture industry, presently prohibited for use in the country. Ulugov’s team found more than 200 former pesticide warehouses extremely contaminated with DDT and other obsolete pesticides, hazardous to human health. The remaining sites are polluted from mining, landfill, heavy metals, and chemical sources. Currently, there are many private homes built near former pesticides depots on the large areas of pesticide-contaminated land, where over 60% of residents are children, whose health is at the greatest risk.

An example of Ulugov’s work is his action against the landowner in Jami district, who was poised to start building housing on a highly contaminated site. Ulugov informed the local authorities, presenting them with the environmental assessment data, showing the threat posed to the families if they would live in these new homes and provoking authorities to reverse previously issued approval and prosecute the owner for knowingly putting residents’ health at risk.

However, the reversal also meant that most owners who purchased the land would not be able to build new houses there. This illustrates another aspect of Ulugov’s work: the need for education of the local population. This proved to be a very important task in another project described here in his own words: “The owner of contaminated warehouses and surrounding land was extremely annoyed that we chose his property for a cleanup. He did not want attention brought to his land, because he has rented the land to 14 families to build housing, and 8 had already built. The remaining 6 had not yet completed  and are now unlikely to finish. I understood very well that in the beginning of a campaign to clean up and remove the chemical contamination from the site, I would face misunderstanding and even aggression on the part of the landowners. This is a kind of hornet’s nest, which has been, because of the lack of sufficient environmental data, very common across our country.

In this case, learning that we were going to clear the site, the residents dismantled the walls of the destroyed warehouse brick by brick. Many of the locals hid these bricks in their homes, as building materials are very expensive. After a series of conversations, where I explained to people that the bricks were a threat to their health, some returned the goods back to their proper places.”

So far, Ulugov’s organization has been able to identify more than 200 toxic sites, among them villages where concentration of DDT or alpha linden toxins were 800 times over allowed levels. They have been able to successfully clean six sites and remove 1,500 tons of hazardous waste, including DDT, heavy metals, and other toxins. Ulugov and his team continue their ongoing cleanup battle with great intensity and dedication, and that is the reason we selected Ulugov as our Global Environmental Hero from Central Asia.

Ulugov’s work directly relates to some of the cleanup in Vallejo, where there were and still are areas of toxic pollution in the soil, especially in areas formerly used by the Navy and large corporations. (The recent cleanup on the property that used to be the PG&E Manufactured Gas Plant in Vallejo comes to mind. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control is overseeing the remediation project. The approach combines excavation and the off haul of soil with on-site treatment to help minimize odors, noise, and traffic impact.)