Toxic Trade News / 19 September 2006
< Previous Page
U.N. says waste dumped in Ivory Coast clearly violated international agreements
by The Associated Press, International Herald Tribune (France)
19 September 2006 (Abidjan, Ivory Coast) – A U.N. expert on Tuesday called the dumping of chemical residue in Ivory Coast a clear violation of international hazardous waste agreements, while Ivorians questioned who to blame.

Seven people have died from exposure to the waste, the Health Ministry said, and thousands have sought treatment at hospitals since residents began to complain of a smell of rotten eggs a few weeks ago.

The waste was shipped to the port city of Abidjan by a vessel chartered by commodities trader Trafigura Beheer BV and dumped — apparently illegally — across the city. The Dutch company said it was dumped by a local contractor. On Monday, Ivorian authorities arrested and charged two Trafigura executives with poisoning and breaking toxic waste laws.

"It's pure petrochemical waste," said Rudolph Walder, a Swiss hazardous waste expert with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination mission. He said the material included solids, oily substances and water — products that could come from a refinery, from the petrochemical industry or from the cleaning of ships.

U.N. experts previously said the waste contained the potentially dangerous chemical hydrogen sulfide, the source of the rotten smell.

"It is very clear to me that (the waste) is a product that violates the Basel convention," Walder said.

According to the Basel Convention, exporting toxic material requires written authorization from the country where it is being sent for disposal.

A Trafigura spokeswoman said the cargo unloaded by the Panama-registered gasoline tanker consisted only of gasoline residue and caustic soda used to clean the tanks, explaining that such tankers are routinely cleaned after unloading. The company has said it had acted lawfully and that the Ivorian company Tommy was certified to process the waste.

Trafigura said it had no explanation of how the waste could have contained hydrogen sulfide.

Ali Yeo, a Justice Ministry official, said the two Trafigura executives who were arrested — both French — were charged and jailed after going before a judge Monday afternoon.

In a statement, Trafigura said it was "very shocked" by the arrest of the two men and said it had not been informed of any charges against them. It said the men were prevented from leaving the country Saturday "to help the authorities as witnesses in the ongoing investigations" and said the meeting with the judge had been voluntary.

The Trafigura spokeswoman said Abidjan is known for having good disposal facilities, adding that Trafigura is a heavy investor in the region that would not willingly risk its reputation or business there.

"The Ivorians are just as angry with their own government as they are with the rich countries," said Venance Konan, an independent analyst and writer for the state-owned Fraternite Matin newspaper. "They blame those in power for dumping the waste and they blame Europe for try to get rid of it here."

Mounting public anger over the dumping resulted in the resignation of the government earlier this month. The ministers of transport and environment have been replaced in the new 36-member Cabinet that was appointed over the weekend. Most other ministers were reappointed to their same posts.

The satirical newspaper Gbich published cartoons accusing the port director, the transport minister and the governor of Abidjan of authorizing the dumping.

"Ivorians, have you understood? Your life is worthless to our leaders," the paper said in this week's issue.

The local contractor, Tommy, did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment. No one was available at Tommy's headquarters, a two-story building in a poor residential neighborhood of Abidjan, when a reporter visited over the weekend. A government permit from July describes Tommy as a specialist in draining, maintaining and refueling ships.

Trafigura did not say how much Tommy was paid to dispose of the waste, but Trafigura had rejected a US$250,000 offer to dispose of the waste in Estonia.

Hospitals have provided free treatment to 44,000 people in the past few weeks, many of them complaining of nausea, headaches, and breathing difficulties caused by the foul-smelling substance, the Health Ministry said.

A French waste removal company began a clean up operation Sunday at the main garbage dump, the worst of the more than 10 dump sites affected in Abidjan. Removing the waste was expected to take two weeks.
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Basel Action Network is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

More News
< Previous Page Return to Top
©2011 Basel Action Network (BAN). All Rights Reserved. – Phone: 206-652-5555 | FAX: 206-652-5750

Select images courtesy of Chris Jordan