U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Home Issues & Press Travel & Business Countries Youth & Education Careers About State Video
 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs > Remarks, Fact Sheets, Reports, Other Releases > Fact Sheets > 2003

Environmental Consequences of the Illicit Coca Trade

Washington, DC
March 17, 2003

Narcotics cultivation and processing cause serious damage to the ecology of the Andean region, particularly in Colombia, where over 90% of the world’s cocaine is produced. Over the past 20 years, coca cultivation in the Andean region has resulted in the destruction of at least 5.9 million acres of rainforest—an area larger than the states of Maryland and Massachusetts combined. Working in remote areas beyond settled populations, growers routinely slash and burn virgin forestland to make way for their illegal crops. As tropical rains erode the thin topsoil of the fields, growers must regularly abandon their parcels to prepare new plots—increasing soil erosion and runoff, depleting soil nutrients, and, by destroying timber and other resources that would otherwise be available for more sustainable uses, decreasing biological diversity. Traffickers also destroy jungle forests to build clandestine landing strips and laboratories for processing raw coca and poppy into cocaine and heroin.

Many of these illicit coca growers are equally negligent in their use of fertilizers and pesticides. Seeking to maximize their incomes and largely ignorant about chemicals, coca growers dump large quantities of highly-toxic herbicides and fertilizers on their crops. These chemicals include paraquat and endosulfan, both of which qualify under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s highest classification for toxicity (Category I) and are legally restricted for sale within Colombia and the United States. These chemicals saturate the soil and contaminate waterways, poisoning water systems and dependent species in the process.

The environmental impact of the drug trade extends beyond the consequences of drug cultivation. The thousands of drug processing laboratories in the region also require enormous quantities of toxic chemicals to refine raw crops into finished drugs. These illegal labs indiscriminately dispose of enormous amounts of untreated toxic chemicals into the local environment, often directly into nearby streams and rivers. These chemicals include millions of liters of kerosene, ethyl ether, sulfuric acid, potassium permanganate, acetone, and thousands of tons of lime and carbide. The Colombian Government has estimated the amount of illegal chemical substances dumped by traffickers into the country’s ecosystem at more than one million tons since the mid-1980’s. A report from the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru estimated that as much as 600 million liters of so-called precursor chemicals are used annually in South America for cocaine production. This translates to more than two metric tons of chemical waste generated for each hectare of coca processed to produce cocaine. These chemicals cause lasting damage to plants, rivers, and soil and pose an indirect carcinogenic threat to animals and humans consuming from this contaminated food chain.

Although the countries of the Andean region are most directly diminished by the permanent loss of tropical forests, soil and watersheds from drug cultivation and processing, global interests are also directly affected. By reducing the number of rare tropical plant species, the world loses potentially irreplaceable sources for medicinal drugs. Furthermore, the destruction of tropical forests also releases large quantities of greenhouse gases, contributing towards global warming. Halting these ecological degradations through assisting countries of the region to reduce illegal drug production is clearly in the vested interest of the international community.  


  Back to top

U.S. Department of State
USA.govU.S. Department of StateUpdates  |   Frequent Questions  |   Contact Us  |   Email this Page  |   Subject Index  |   Search
The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.
About state.gov  |   Privacy Notice  |   FOIA  |   Copyright Information  |   Other U.S. Government Information

Published by the U.S. Department of State Website at http://www.state.gov maintained by the Bureau of Public Affairs.