News / Africa

Toxic Dumping in Ivory Coast Called Environmental Disaster

Abidjan residents live and work near the dump site, February 2009. (Greenpeace)
Abidjan residents live and work near the dump site, February 2009. (Greenpeace)
Kim Lewis
Amnesty International and Greenpeace Netherlands have called for a criminal investigation into what they say was the illegal dumping of toxic waste in and around Abidjan, Ivory Coast, six years ago, by a multinational company, Trafigura.

The organizations have jointly released a new report entitled The Toxic Truth.  They said it is the culmination of a three-year investigation and in-depth examination of what they call the failures that created a medical, political and environmental disaster in West Africa. 

The report includes documentation of various illnesses people in the area have been suffering from as a result of the dumping of toxic waste in their communities.

“We went out and talked to victims as well as doctors who treated these people, and we documented that over 100,000 people have sought medical help. The doctors described the effects as a unique mix of symptoms.  For example, they have neurological complaints, headaches, black outs; respiratory problems; skin; digestive; ear, nose and throat problems,” explained Marietta Harjono, toxic waste campaigner for Greenpeace International in Amsterdam. 

She said these symptoms have been extremely frightening for the victims.

Before it reached the coast of West Africa, the toxic waste made a perilous international journey that began as a business opportunity.

Harjono said toxic waste was created on the ship because the company, Trafigura ran out of land options.  They then tried to dispose of the waste in Europe but no facilities were able to process the waste.  However, the Netherlands offered the company a good disposal method, but Trafigura turned it down.

“After a long journey, they decided to bring it to Cote d’Ivoire.  It is truly an international story, because it all started with low quality gasoline brought from Mexico and the U-S, traveled through Europe, then to the Mediterranean where it was processed.  But it ended up at the doorsteps of the people of Abidjan who had nothing to do with it,” said Harjono.

Amnesty International and Greenpeace International said they want someone in the United Kingdom to look into the dumping so that Trafigura can be brought to justice.

The company did respond to the allegations made in the report, answering that it was not responsible for the dumping of the waste in and around Abidjan.

“They’ve always said ‘it is not us who you need to blame’.  We have showed them our report with the allegations and they just said it is not accurate.  But they do not give us details as to why it is not accurate,” said Harjono.

Harjono said not only has Trafigura denied any responsibility, they have also failed to answer the question, “Why did you decide to bring the toxic waste to Africa and not go for the option in Amsterdam?” 

To listen to the entire interview with Kim Lewis and Marietta Harjono, please click on audio.

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