Peter Murphy, Reuters, October 28, 2006
ABIDJAN, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Tonnes of deadly toxic waste which killed 10 people and made thousands ill in Ivory Coast were shipped out of the West African country in sealed containers on Friday, bound for a treatment plant in France.
The poisonous chemical waste was dumped in August in open-air sites around Abidjan, economic capital of the world’s top cocoa grower, after being unloaded from an oil tanker.
Thousands of Abidjan residents became ill with vomiting, diarrhoea, nosebleeds and nausea and 10 died in a health scandal which created an international outcry and forced the war-divided country’s cabinet to resign before a reshuffle.
“I wouldn’t say this is the end of it,” said Safiatou Ba N’Daw, president of the government’s toxic waste crisis committee as the boat sailed out of Abidjan port.
“I’d say it’s more the beginning of the end now we have the first load now leaving. We’re still cleaning up the soil here.”
More than 140 reinforced containers carrying a mixture of the waste and contaminated earth were loaded on to the French-registered Toucan container ship for a 10-day journey to Europe.
A French company specialising in cleaning up hazardous waste, Tredi International, is carrying out the clean-up operation.
A pungent odour could be smelt emanating from the lower tier of the ship where sealed tanks were stowed. More were on the top deck.
The shipment was the first of four which will deliver the waste to a treatment centre in Salaise in southeast France. The French Ecology Ministry said on Friday the chemical residue would be treated over five months from mid-November.
Tredi spokesman Henri Petitgand said the company was in the final stages of the clean-up operation in Abidjan that began nearly six weeks ago.
Inquiries are still under way in Ivory Coast and Europe to find out how around 500 tonnes of the oil-based waste were dumped without any health or environmental precautions after they were unloaded from a Panamanian-registered tanker, Probo Koala, chartered by Dutch-based oil trader Trafigura.
Trafigura’s director and West African regional chief have been detained in Abidjan and face charges under Ivorian toxic waste and poisoning laws.
The company denies any wrongdoing, saying it entrusted the load to a state-registered local waste disposal company.
This week a Dutch lawyer representing victims of the toxic waste demanded Trafigura pay 10 million euros ($12.66 million) as an advance on potential future damages and said the company would face court action if it did not pay within two weeks.
The lawyer, Bob van der Goen, said Trafigura should have known Ivory Coast did not have the necessary facilities to process the waste.
Charles Kouakou, a docker at Abidjan port, said he was pleased to see the waste shipped out. “People were killed so I’m pleased to see it go. I want to know who allowed this to happen and for them to be punished,” he said.