This really quite shocking story appeared in the Guardian today: a ship chartered by a British firm, Trafigura, dumped toxic waste in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, in 2006, making some 100,000 people ill, of which 30,000 are suing the company. This was after they attempted to offload the gunk in Amsterdam, but after people there started feeling sick, they pumped it all back on board and headed for Africa (stopping to “desulphurise” off Norway, releasing toxic sulphur gas into the population there too):
The firm chartered the ship, Probo Koala, which transported the cargo to Ivory Coast in 2006.
An official Dutch analysis of samples of the waste carried by the Probo Koala indicate that it contained approximately 2 tonnes of hydrogen sulphide, a killer gas with a characteristic smell of rotten eggs.
Asked to comment about the potential toxicity of such a mix, John Hoskins, a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, told BBC2’s Newsnight last night: “If you dropped this in Trafalgar Square, you would have people being sick for several miles around and that would involve millions of people. You’d see the effects out to the M25 [the ring road around London, i.e. up to 25 miles away].
“It’s not very hard to imagine that if a pregnant woman was poisoned her body reacts by aborting the foetus. There will be long-term effects. These things are chronically damaging and, once you’ve damaged your lungs, kidneys, that damage will not recover.”
It is alleged that what Trafigura was really doing was very far from routine: that the company was trying to transform consignments of cheap and dirty petroleum, heavily contaminated with sulphur, into something more profitable.
Trafigura employees were trying to remove sulphur from the so-called “coker gasoline”, it is claimed, by adding highly-corrosive caustic soda and a catalyst. This process leaves the improved petroleum in a top layer and a toxic sludge underneath.
It is widely-known that western firms use developing countries as dumping grounds for toxic and radioactive waste; much of our household waste ends up in China, while countries without functioning governments are easy targets for this kind of dumping, Somalia being a favourite destination. In 2002, a shipment of wood preservative was sent to Ethiopia in plastic cans rather than the required metal drums (the chemical is highly toxic and carcinogenic), causing a massive leak which killed at least three people and injured many more in the port of Djibouti (also here).
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