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Ivory Coast Toxic Waste Health Risk Lessens, Criminal Inquiry Continues

The number of people seeking medical treatment in Ivory Coast for symptoms related to the dumping of toxic waste last month is steadily dropping. Meanwhile, officials are continuing a series of investigations to determine who is responsible for dumping the waste.

To date, more than 85,000 Abidjan residents have complained of symptoms they feared were linked to the dumping of 528,000 liters of liquid toxic waste more than a month ago. Authorities say eight people have died after exposure to the toxic waste.

But now, health officials in Ivory Coast say the number of new patients has dropped below 1,000 per day, compared with 3,000 to 4,000 in the weeks before.

French waste disposal company Tredi International has finished cleanup of Abidjan's main landfill, and has moved on to some of the 15 other identified contaminated sites.

Simeon Nda, a health ministry spokesman, said the cleanup operation has gone a long way toward calming the public.

Meanwhile, no fewer than five investigations into the affair are currently under way in Ivory Coast. At least eight suspects are in custody. They include two French executives from the Netherlands-based firm, Trafigura Beheer BV, the company that chartered the tanker ship that offloaded the waste at Abidjan's port.

"All those whose criminal responsibility is established will face justice," Ivory Coast's justice minister, Mamadou Kone, told VOA.

Kone said the government is also looking into how it can recuperate what are expected to be the exorbitant costs of the cleanup process. This could, he says, involve civil cases against companies and individuals involved.

"The government has hired lawyers to defend its interests," Kone said. "These lawyers will decide, in consultation with the government, what direction to take."

Dutch authorities have also opened an inquiry into the matter. And the tanker ship involved in the dumping in Abidjan is currently being held in Estonia in connection with another investigation there.