An horrific story in today’s New York Times about how a global oil company dumped up to 400 tons of toxic waste on the doorstep of some of the world’s poorest people in the Ivory Coast in order to save costs. So far eight people have died, dozens have been hospitalized and 85,000 have sought medical attention.
The toxic sludge came from a Greek-owned tanker flying a Panamanian flag and leased by the London branch of Trafigura, a Swiss trading corporation whose fiscal headquarters are in the Netherlands. Safe disposal, says the Times, of the 400 tons of “marslops” or “slops” would have cost about $300,000 or even more.
After Dutch workers complained about becoming sick and of the nature of the waste, the vessel carrying it eventually ended up in the Ivory Coast, where a local contractor was given the task of cleaning it up. This is despite the fact that Dutch and British toxic-waste experts and oil traders believe that the Ivory Coast has no facilities capable of handling high-level toxic waste.
The local contractor, Tommy, then just tankered the waste to over a dozen sites in the capital, Abidjan, including into landfill. It was not long before thousands of near-by people became sick. Now a French clean-up crew has been called in and the waste may be safely disposed of in France.
This waste dumping has caused a political scandal. According the the NYT “the spreading illnesses sparked violent demonstrations from a population convinced that government corruption was to blame for the dumping, and ultimately the furor forced the prime minister and his government to resign in September, though much of the government was reinstated later. Six Ivorians, one Nigerian and two European officials from Trafigura have been jailed so far in Ivory Coast.”
Greenpeace has now filed criminal complaints in Amsterdam against Trafigura, Amsterdam Port Services and the Dutch environmental authorities. The city of Amsterdam and the Dutch Parliament have begun their own inquiries. There are no fewer than five investigations going on in Ivory Coast.
Meanwhile a statement posted on Trafigura’s Web site says that “tests conducted by the company and others show the washings themselves to have little or no toxicity”.