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Report Links Toxic Waste to Deaths in Ivory Coast

A report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council links the toxic waste dumped by a Dutch-owned vessel in the Ivory Coast three years ago to deaths and illnesses. On August 19, 2006, the Probo Koala, a ship owned by the Dutch oil trading company Trafigura and flying the Panamanian flag docked in the capital Abidjan and discharged its tanks containing the waste.

The waste was dumped in 17 or 18 sites around Abidjan. According to official government estimates, 15 people died and more than 100,000 were hospitalized from the affects of the waste. Civil society organizations claim the number of dead and sick is much higher.

Civil and criminal proceedings related to this incident are ongoing in both Britain and the Netherlands. For that reason, Special U.N. Investigator on the adverse affects of toxic waste, Okechukwu Ibeanu, says the verdict is still out on whether the wastes caused the deaths and illnesses.

"There is still some contention among scientists as to the actual causality," he said. "That, I realize. But there is a prima facie evidence to believe that there is a connection. There could not have been a coincidence that hundreds of thousands of people would become sick in the immediate aftermath of the dumping around Abidjan."

The report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council says the long-term human health and environmental consequences of the incident have not yet been fully determined.

It notes the impact of excessive exposure to each chemical component of the waste is likely to be known, but the consequences of the cocktail of these chemicals on humans is still unknown.

During his mission to Abidjan, Investigator Ibeanua says he and his team visited some of the waste sites. He says Ivorian officials corroborated the mission's findings that the cleanup of the sites were not as thorough as they should be to make them fully safe.

"During my mission, I was able to meet people who claimed that they were still ill and they showed hospital reports and they showed symptoms that were in a way still consistent with the ones observed during the incident," he added. "And, these are people who continue to live in the vicinity of the sites."

The report recommends the sites be made safe and long-term effects on the population should be monitored. It urges the Dutch company Trafigura to be more open to criticism and more willing to resolve the outstanding issues.

The U.N. expert says victims should be compensated and steps should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future.

Trafigura has already paid $225 million in damages to the victims of the toxic poisoning in Ivory Coast in an out-of-court deal with the Ivory Coast government which exempts it from legal proceedings in that country.