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WHO: Acute Phase of Toxic Chemical Spill in Ivory Coast Over


The World Health Organization (WHO) reports the dangerous phase of the toxic chemical spill in Ivory Coast's commercial center, Abidjan, is over. However, it says the public health crisis continues. WHO says seven people have died and thousands are continuing to seek medical assistance.

WHO chemical safety expert, Jenny Pronczuk, who has just returned from Ivory Coast, says the smell of rotten eggs still fills her nostrils. She says people in Abidjan continue to suffer from the chemical substances, called slops, that were dumped more than a month ago.

She says those exposed to the chemical waste had symptoms that included nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting, headaches, skin and eye irritation and respiratory problems. She says a massive cleanup of 14 contaminated sites began on Sunday. It is expected to last six weeks.

While Pronczuk does not anticipate any further acute toxic episodes to occur, she says thousands of people are continuing to seek information and assistance.

"We have about 50,000 people who are consulting up to now in the hospitals because they are really concerned about this odor," she said. "On top of that, you have people who come to the hospital because of a previous disease. For example, they have asthma, chronic bronchitis or they have a gastric ailment. And smelling that odor and that irritation, enhances the symptomatology. So what started as a chemical incident turned into a mitigated chemical problem, but it was increasing the public health crisis in trying to cope with all these cases."

Because of the run on the hospital, Dr. Pronczuk, says medical and other supplies were exhausted. She says WHO is in the process of replenishing the stock, but that will take money the organization does not have.

She says people are also anxious about the long-term consequences the chemical spill will have on their health and on that of their children.

The WHO official also says there may be more problems resulting from the spill.

"There is another issue and it is that some of the trucks that were transporting the chemicals have not been found," she added. "And also knowledge that some of the chemicals were poured into closed sewage systems under the city. So, that means that although the acute phase is over, we should have preparedness because if someone opens those sewages that we do not know where the are, or these trucks are found, or they are still trying to pour their chemicals in some place, acute incidents may reoccur."

The World Health Organization says the toxic chemicals that were dumped will not remain in the environment. It says it does not expect any long-term chronic health problems from the contamination, once the sites are cleaned up.

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