Slate has a great article by Jeremy Kahn about the politics of international toxic waste transport in light of a recent shipment of toxic waste that was improperly dumped in the Ivory Coast and resulted in the hospitalization of tens of thousands of locals.
“On Aug. 19, a Panamanian-flagged ship owned by a Greek firm and chartered by a leading Dutch commodities broker docked in Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital. The ship unloaded between 400 tons and 600 tons of toxic petrochemical waste, which was summarily dumped in open-air sites around the city and poured into the sewer system.”
Kahn points out that this incident is merely one example of a broader scheme in which developed countries export their toxic waste to developing nations. While the export is often conducted under the condition that the developing nations will treat this waste, or properly recycle it, the waste often goes untreated. As a result, many citizens of developing nations literally become sick just by drinking water or breathing air that is polluted by trash from economically developed nations. Kahn discusses the Basel Convention–an international “treaty governing the shipment of hazardous waste,” and the role of the U.S.A. in this international waste trading regime. Kahn rightly laments the fact that despite the gravity of events like the one that just occured on the Ivory Coast, Western media mostly fails to report on these issues. Not that this blog is a significant media source, but here’s our little contribution to spreading the word.
9/26/06 Update: This story is starting to gain some international attention. Eight people have died in the Ivory Coast as a likely result of exposure to the toxic waste, and things are starting to heat up. From the International Herald Tribune:
“Hospitals in Abidjan have provided free consultations to 80,000 people, many of them complaining of nausea, headaches and breathing difficulties caused by the fumes… [The Dutch Company that commissioned the shipment] Trafigura’s director Claude Dauphin and another executive were jailed in Ivory Coast last week and charged with poisoning and breaking toxic waste laws after they went to the country to distribute medicines and assist authorities with an investigation.”
Greenpeace has blockaded the ship, which is now docking in Estonia, that dumped the toxic chemicals in the Ivory Coast. From Greenpeace News:
“At 17.00 local time, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise moved slowly towards the poison ship. Bearing a banner warning that “Toxic Trade Kills” the Arctic Sunrise dropped anchor at 18.00 local time, some 100 metres away, effectively barring the ship from leaving port. Our demands: Estonia should impound the ship. The European Commission, acting for the European Union, should ensure that the ship is held until a full criminal investigation is carried out and those responsible for the illegal waste export, and ensuing deaths, are brought to justice. … The fact that the toxic waste was dumped openly on the streets of a city is shocking enough. The fact that the waste was delivered by a ship chartered by Trafigura LTD (controlled by Dutch firm Trafigura Beheer BV), who claimed they thought the waste would be ‘properly treated’ in a poor African nation raises serious questions about why they sent it to Africa.”