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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

TweetThis! OMG, Why did they do this? The biggest toxic dumping scandal of the 21st century!

Thank you Brother Ndosi for alerting us regarding this news information.
Dirty tricks and toxic waste in Ivory Coast
By Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean
BBC Newsnight

It is the biggest toxic dumping scandal of the 21st century, the type of environmental vandalism that international treaties are supposed to prevent. Now Newsnight can reveal the truth about the waste that was illegally tipped on Ivory Coast's biggest city, Abidjan. A giant multinational is being sued in London's High Court by thousands of Africans who claim they were injured as a result.
Our investigation took us to Amsterdam where the waste could have been safely disposed of. Instead the company, Trafigura, went for the cheaper option and offloaded it in Abidjan.

Trafigura has always denied that the chemical waste was dangerous, but we have seen an analysis by the Dutch authorities which reveal it to be lethal.

We consulted a leading toxicologist, John Hoskins from the Royal Society of Chemistry. He said it would bring a major city to its knees.

The waste includes tons of phenols which can cause death by contact, tons of hydrogen sulphide, lethal if inhaled in high concentrations, and vast quantities of corrosive caustic soda and mercaptans which John Hoskins describes as "the most odorous compounds ever produced".

A terrible smell
It happened on 19 August 2006 in the dead of night. A convoy of trucks from a newly-formed company in Abidjan arrived to take the waste away. They illegally dumped the first loads at the huge tip in Aquedo.

A powerful stench soon engulfed the area. The tip's operators were called out and the drivers sent packing. They looked elsewhere to drop the waste, tipping it in at least 18 places across the city and beyond.

The Aquedo tip stretches as far as the eye can see. As scores of waste trucks tip their loads, an army of Abidjanis cluster around, children amongst them, brandishing long metal spikes. They pick through the rubbish, looking for anything that can be sold.

We were soon surrounded by people, only too willing to talk about the night the toxic waste was dumped and the terrible smell that made them gag and sicken.

“ There were women who miscarried, and that was very painful. But still, the worst was that three people, two adults and a girl were killed by the toxic wastes. That was very hard ” Esaie Modto, head of Djibli village
Just round the corner from the dump, we met Jean Francois Kouadio and his wife, Fidel.

She had been eight months pregnant with their first child when the fumes swamped their home. Fidel gave birth prematurely and the boy, Jean Claude, died within a day.

Their second child Ama Grace was born a year later. She too fell ill.

The doctors said that Ama Grace "was suffering from acute glycaemia caused by the toxic wastes".

They could do nothing for her and she died.

The medical reports state a "strong presumption" that the deaths of the two children were caused by exposure to the toxic waste and Jean Francois and Fidel now fear they will never become parents.

Polluted water
We also visited the village of Djibi, just outside Abidjan. The waste that was tipped here got into the water supply, killing the fish that fed the village.

The head of Djibi, Esaie Modto, told us that every last person here fell ill, two thousand people:

"There were women who miscarried, and that was very painful. But still, the worst was that three people, two adults and a girl were killed by the toxic wastes. That was very hard."

So what was it that brought such ruin on a country that in 2006 was still struggling to recover from a civil war?

The waste was generated as the result of an oil deal spanning three continents. Trafigura bought a consignment of cheap and dirty heavy oil with a high sulphur content. Instead of putting it through a refinery, Trafigura tried to clean it up, using a do-it-yourself method, so they could sell it on at a massive profit.

They used a ship called the Probo Koala which they stationed off Gibraltar as a rough and ready refinery. Caustic soda and a catalyst were added to the oil which reacted with the sulphur and settled to the bottom of the tank. Trafigura were then able to sell the oil, but left with a toxic sludge at the bottom of the tank.

"Smelly but not dangerous"

The Probo Koala went to Amsterdam where they attempted to unload this sulphurous tar as if it were normal ships' waste, which would have cost a few thousand euros.

However the fumes were so bad, the emergency services were called and the Dutch authorities carried out tests. They discovered the waste was highly toxic and told Trafigura that it would cost half a million euros to dispose of safely.

The Probo Koala instead pumped the waste back on board and left port, ending up in West Africa.

Marietta Harjono of Greenpeace Nederland says this has led to a prosecution by the Dutch authorities for "falsification of papers - they deliberately were silent on the toxic nature of the waste", as well as for illegal import of toxic waste and "illegal export of toxic waste from Europe to Cote d'Ivoire".

When Newsnight first investigated the toxic dumping scandal in 2007 one of Trafigura's founders Eric de Turckheim told Jeremy Paxman "these materials were not dangerous for human beings. It was smelly, but not dangerous."

Newsnight's new investigation shows this was far from the case. Trafigura continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Watch Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean's investigation in full on Newsnight on Wednesday 13 May 2009 at 10.30pm on BBC Two.
Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8048626.stm
Published: 2009/05/13 16:53:08 GMT
Trafigura Statement
"Trafigura was not responsible for dumping the Probo Koala's slops in Abidjan. This has always been made perfectly clear. The slops were dumped by an independent contractor, Compagnie Tommy, which was appointed lawfully and in good faith on the basis that it would dispose of the slops in a safe and legal manner. Trafigura cannot have foreseen the reprehensible and illegal way in which Compagnie Tommy then proceeded to dump the slops.

The Probo Koala's stop in Abidjan (West Africa's largest port) in August 2006 was on the return from a voyage to West Africa for the purposes of commercial deliveries of gasoline. We have always made clear that this was a commercial voyage.

The Probo Koala's slops were a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda. According to analyses that Trafigura has seen, it is not possible that the content of the slops could have led to the deaths and widespread injuries which are alleged to have been caused by them. This is supported by independent expert evidence which Trafigura will present in the English High Court in Autumn 2009. It is for this reason that Trafigura made its proposal (since accepted and agreed by Leigh Day) to proceed on the basis of causation only. While continuing strenuously to deny liability, the company decided to proceed on this basis independently of the issue of liability.

This is most certainly not, on any analysis, an admission of liability by Trafigura. On the contrary, it was intended to save time and costs for both parties by getting to what Trafigura considered the central issue. You may wish to be aware that Leigh Day & Co's mis-description of the nature of this agreement on its website is currently the subject of a malicious falsehood complaint made by Trafigura.

Trafigura's own investigations did reveal that people living in the village of Akouedo (one of the places where the Probo Koala's slops were dumped by Compagnie Tommy) have suffered significant long-term health issues caused by over 40 years of commercial and domestic waste dumping. However, it does not know and will not speculate publicly as to where this waste originated.

Trafigura has always said that the appropriate place for this case to be heard is in court and we are not prepared to engage in a trial by media. Whilst we refute your allegations, in the light of the impending court hearing, Trafigura does not feel it is appropriate to deal with these matters via the media. We will demonstrate the strength of our case when the trial commences in the Autumn."

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