Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Youths blocked roads in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan on Wednesday to protest at the dumping of pungent toxic waste which doctors said killed two people and made hundreds ill after it was found around the city.

"There were two deaths, a four-year-old girl and another aged nine years," an official at Abidjan's teaching university hospital of Cocody, where more than 340 people have been treated since Thursday told South Africa's News 24.

Authorities said the petrol-type substance with a high sulphur content was unloaded from a Panamanian-registered ship at Abidjan port on August 19 and then dumped in at least eight sites around the densely populated city.

The government was holding an emergency meeting in the political capital Yamoussoukro to work out a response and had requested international help to analyse the substance and work out how the city can be decontaminated.

Toxic waste dumping has been going on in the Third World for several years. Countries in the West find it cheaper to export their wastes to poor Third World countries, than to dispose of the wastes themselves.

Lately, its been high tech waste dumping in less developed countries thats become all the rage. First world computers end up in these landfills because developed countries ship them there either as charity (the idea is that these computers actually still work) or as waste. The reason why they go to all the trouble of shipping their old computers to countries like India and China instead of dumping them in their own landfills is that computers are toxic.

While you are not likely to get mercury poisoning or develop cancer from sitting in front of your computer, the hazardous materials in computers become a serious concern when they are left to leak into the land and water supply.

"A lot of these materials are being sent [to developing nations] under the guise of reuse—to bridge the digital divide," Richard Gutierrez, a toxics policy analyst for the Seattle, Washington-based Basel Action Network told National Geographic.

Earlier this year the activist organization issued a report titled "The Digital Dump." The paper concludes that three-quarters of the supposedly reusable electronics shipped to Africa's largest port are broken.

One of the problems is that no one certifies whether donated machines work before they hit the seaways. Because of this, the report says, e-waste is a growing problem in Lagos, Nigeria, and elsewhere in the developing world.

Gordon Davy, an engineer with technology firm Northrop Grumman in Baltimore, Maryland, responded to this in a manner that betrays the thinking of corporate power. He told National Geographic,""Pollution in the third world is clearly deplorable," he said. "But as far as health consequences [of e-waste is concerned], the environmental activists need to provide supporting evidence. They need to identify and count their victims."

Richard Gutierrez, a toxics policy analyst for the Seattle, Washington-based Basel Action Network responded to Davy's incredible statement. "We're dealing with toxic substances that have been studied to death. We need not come up with further studies. It would be an overanalysis of an obvious problem."

"The e-waste crisis is relatively young," he said. "The problems [that people] are being exposed to will germinate for years." By the time chronic diseases such as cancer arise, it will be too late to avert a public-health disaster, he said.

Anyway, back to the Ivory Coast for some good old fashion toxic waste dumping.

The following comes from IRIN.

Hundreds Hospitalised After Breathing Toxic Fumes
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

Hundreds of people have been admitted to hospital after breathing toxic fumes from poisonous waste dumped in residential areas of Cote d'Ivoire's main city, Abidjan.

On Tuesday, hundreds of the city's residents threw up barricades in protest, prompting the government to appeal on national television for roads to be cleared so that medical personnel could get through. The waste is residue from gasoline cargo shipped to Abidjan's port last month.

Local newspapers this week reported that two children died after inhaling the toxic fumes.

In a bid to reassure the population, health officials appeared on state television late Tuesday to say the government was trying to locate the sites where the waste had been discharged.

"Indeed, the waste consists of toxic products," said Health Minister Remi Allah Kouadio, adding that the government was considering supplying local hospitals with medication.

Hundreds of people had turned up at local hospitals, some with complaints ranging from eye irritation to nausea, while others were desperately seeking information about the nature of the waste following rumours that it was radioactive, a health official told IRIN on condition of anonymity.

Local media reports about the waste began appearing last week as residents complained of a pervading noxious odour emanating from several different neighbourhoods, including the city's main garbage dump.

Protests began on Monday near the garbage disposal site and the city zoo, with scores of people barricading roads to stop tanker trucks and brandishing placards accusing the government of negligence.

"We have been living with this horrible smell for two weeks and it is making us sick," said Guy Roland, a young resident of Plateau Dokui, one of the affected neighbourhoods. "We are asking the authorities to do something."

After gasoline from the Netherlands-based commodities trading firm Trafigura Beheer B.V. was unloaded two weeks ago a local company specialising in chemical waste disposal was charged with getting rid of the residue, according to Trafigura.

The waste contains the strong-smelling chemicals hydrogen sulphide and mercaptan, according to a report by the Ivorian Anti-Pollution Centre (CIAPOL), obtained by IRIN.

The report says hydrogen sulphide is "a toxic substance that can lead to immediate death when inhaled".

In a statement, Trafigura said it was "very concerned that the residue of the ship... has been disposed of inappropriately in Abidjan".

Trafigura Beheer B.V. is the holding company of Trafigura Group, a leading independent commodities trading company specialising in petrol, gasoline and base metals. (Editors Note: Netherlands based Trafigura Group, one of the world's top trading companies. Established in 1993, Trafigura now employs more than 630 people in 58 offices in 46 countries worldwide. In 2004 turnover exceeded $17.5 billion. Group equity now stands in excess of $500 million.)

The company confirmed in a statement that the cargo had been gasoline, containing a mixture of petrol and sulphur, with an added concentration of sulphuric products. It said it had informed authorities about the nature of the waste and had sent a written request that it should be safely discarded.

The company declined requests for an interview.

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