U.N.: Ivory Coast Dumping a Violation
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 5:40 PM
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.
Seven people have died from exposure to the waste, the Health Ministry said, and 44,000 people 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 was dumped _ apparently illegally _ across the city.
On Monday, Ivorian authorities arrested two executives with the Dutch company on charges of poisoning and breaking toxic waste laws. Trafigura has said that it acted lawfully and that the Ivorian contractor which dumped the material was certified to process waste.
"It's pure petrochemical waste," said Rudolph Walder, a Swiss hazardous waste expert with the United Nations disaster assessment mission.
He said the material included solids, oily substances and water _ products that could come from a refinery, the petrochemical industry or cleaning of ships.
"It is very clear to me," Walder said, "that (the waste) is a product that violates the Basel Convention," an international accord on trade in potentially hazardous waste.
U.N. experts previously said the waste contained the potentially dangerous chemical hydrogen sulfide, the source of the rotten smell.
Trafigura said the cargo unloaded by the Panama-registered gasoline tanker consisted only of gasoline residue and caustic soda used to clean the tanks, saying tankers are routinely cleaned after unloading. It said it had no explanation of how the waste could contain 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.
"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 newspaper Fraternite Matin. "They blame those in power for dumping the waste and they blame Europe for trying to get rid of it here."
Mounting public anger about the dumping forced the resignation of the government earlier this month. The ministers of transport and environment were replaced when a new 36-member Cabinet was named over the weekend, with most other ministers reappointed to their old posts.
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.