Toxic Trade News / 7 September 2006
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Africa said most at risk to ill-regulated toxics
by Alister Doyle - Environment Correspondent, Reuters
  Images are copyrighted by Reuters  
7 September 2006 (Oslo) – Africa is especially vulnerable to a growing and ill-regulated trade in hazardous waste, experts said on Thursday after a toxic dumping scandal in Ivory Coast killed three people and forced the government to quit.

Poor political oversight, lack of domestic laws to restrict dumping and companies seeking to avoid clean-up costs all make Africa at risk from dumping of wastes ranging from pesticides to industrial chemicals, environmentalists say.

"Africa is generally considered the most vulnerable of the continents," said Michael Williams, spokesman for the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

"There are any number of cases in Africa where ships dump their cargoes or leave their entire ship and let it rot," he said. He said the United Nations lacked statistics on the numbers of people killed or made sick by waste.

In Ivory Coast, waste from a Panamanian-registered ship, the Probo Koala, that was dumped around the lagoon-side city of Abidjan last month has killed three and made hundreds ill.

Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny offered the resignation of his cabinet to President Laurent Gbagbo late on Wednesday. Gbagbo asked Banny to form a new cabinet on Thursday.

Countries that report to the Basel Convention, which monitors hazardous waste, produced around 108 million tonnes of the wastes in 2001, according to U.N. statistics. Uzbekistan was top with 26 percent of the total.

Rising Shipments

"The amount of waste on the move is increasing rapidly," a U.N. report said, estimating that "between 1993 and 2001 the amount of waste criss-crossing the globe increased from 2 million tonnes to more than 8.5 million tonnes."

But it said that not all countries reported shipments.

Dutch-based Trafigura Beheer BV, one of the world's leading commodity traders, said it had chartered the Probo Koala and that the material was a "mixture of gasoline, water and caustic washings" after the unloading of a cargo of gasoline in Nigeria.

It said the slops were handed over to a certified local waste disposal company, Tommy, along with a written request for safe disposal.

Ivory Coast has contacted the Secretariat of the U.N.'s Basel Convention asking for help in finding out what went wrong.

By contrast with Africa, some nations in Asia are seeking to capitalise on trade in hazardous wastes, for instance by breaking up ageing ships. This also brings huge health risks.

The Indian Express newspaper said this week that a Supreme Court-appointed panel has found that the health of around one in six workers in India's biggest shipbreaking yard was suffering due to exposure to asbestos.

The panel was set up after France halted a plan to scrap the aircraft carrier Clemenceau in India. Environmentalists said the 27,000-tonne carrier was carrying hundreds of tonnes of asbestos.

"Anywhere where a country is suffering from political or economic instability there is always room for it to be treated as a dumping ground," said Helen Perivier, an anti-toxics campaigner at the Greenpeace environmental group.

"Unfortunately Africa, the poorest continent in the world, has many regions affected by instability," she said.

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