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Number of Ill Climbs in Ivory Coast Toxic Waste Scandal

Three weeks after toxic waste was dumped in Ivory Coast's biggest city Abidjan, the number of people seeking treatment after inhaling the poisonous gases is still rising dramatically. Top officials have been arrested. Now the prime minister says they are ready to get rid of the waste.

At Cocody's University Hospital in central Abidjan, doctors are receiving hundreds of men, women, and children who think they have inhaled the poisonous fumes from the illegally dumped toxic waste. Every day the figure of those seeking treatment rises: 10,000, 16,000, 25,000. Officially six have died.

But Marie Koko, who is also waiting for a check-up, says her eight-year-old granddaughter who died two weeks ago, was not among those counted. She says, her granddaughter was complaining of an aching head and stomach. She says, she did not know about the toxic waste. She says, her granddaughter started to vomit over and over again. She says, she gave her medicine and took her to hospital, but the next day she died at hospital.

The doctors at the hospital agree the situation is not under control.

Like hundreds of others, Dr. Akoman Kakou volunteered to help during this crisis. He says, every day there are more and more patients. He says, it is hard to know when it will end.

But Dr. Kakou says the government is finding its feet and more medication is now available. He says, the government could do more, but they are giving some support.

The sulfurous stench hangs over the 11 identified dumpsites and blows with the wind into surrounding residential areas. Many residents wear masks to protect themselves.

The acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Ivory Coast, Youssouf Omar, says reliable sources indicate significant amounts of waste were also dumped in the sea and lagoon surrounding Abidjan. The same odor wafts up from the lagoon. But Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny has assured the population it will not enter the water supply.

Ivorian, French and U.N. experts have been analyzing the toxins, but have so far only been able to verify that sulphur compounds are present.

With the dumpsites closed, household rubbish is no longer being collected and is piling up around Abidjan in huge, foul smelling mounds.

Seven top company, port, and customs officials have been arrested in an attempt to find the guilty ones.

The U.N. Basel Convention bans dumping hazardous waste.

The trail leading up to this incident is hazy at best. The Probo Koala, the ship which dumped the waste, is registered in Panama, belongs to a Greek company, and was chartered by a Dutch commodity trader. After unsuccessfully trying to shed its 600-ton toxic load in The Netherlands and Estonia, it succeeded in Abidjan.

Like many others of those affected, Marie Koko says those at the top are to blame. She says she blames the government. She says, a ship cannot just come into a country and unload such a toxic load, without the people at the top knowing.

Last week the government resigned. Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny has announced a French company will get rid of the waste starting Sunday.