Clean-up of toxic waste in Cote d'Ivoire to take weeks: WHO

MU XUEQUAN, XINHUA ONLINE, SEPTEMBER 24, 2006
GENEVA, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) — The toxic waste dumping incident in Cote d’Ivoire has caused a severe public health crisis, and clean-up work will take about six weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
Since the incident happened on Aug. 19, over 44,000 people in the country have sought medical care and at least seven deaths have been reported, Dr. Maria Neira, the WHO’s director of public health and environment, told reporters in Geneva.
The incident has overwhelmed the health system of Cote d’Ivoire and has shown that the country does not have the capacity to deal with such an emergency, she said.
A WHO international team is currently in Abidjan, where the dumping incident took place, to support the Cote d’Ivoire government in dealing with the environmental and health emergency caused by the chemical waste.
The WHO has sent personal protection equipment and toxicological information to the Cote d’Ivoire government. It is also collaborating with other UN agencies and international organizations in Abidjan that are dealing with the emergency.
According to Neira, one of the WHO’s priorities is to put in place an epidemiological surveillance system to track any uncommon health related problems.
She also noted that the WHO supports every investigation into the incident. It is important to know whether relevant conventions dealing with chemicals have been violated, she said.
During the night of Aug. 19, a ship unloaded around 500 tons of petrochemical waste into a number of trucks, which then dumped the waste in at least 15 sites around the city of Abidjan, the commercial capital of Cote d’Ivoire.
This waste contained a mixture of petroleum distillates, hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, phenolic compounds and sodium hydroxide, the WHO said.
Two French managers from a Dutch company have been questioned for the dumping incident, media reports said.

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