NEWS24.COM, ABIDJAN, SEPTEMBER 11, 2006
Abidjan – The death toll in Ivory Coast’s toxic waste scandal has risen to six, while about 9 000 people have been poisoned by the chemical dumped on open-air sites in Abidjan, said the Ivorian health ministry on Monday.
Jean Denoman, deputy director of health said: “We have as of today a total of 8 887 people that have come for consultation at health centres.”
The sixth death was announced by the ministry spokesperson Simeon N’Da.
The toxic material was dumped in August by a Panamanian-registered ship at about 10 open-air sites in the commercial capital Abidjan, a city of four million people.
State prosecutor Raymond Tchimou said on Monday that seven people, including the heads of three companies – Puma Energie, Waibs and Tommy -operating at the Abdijan Port had been arrested over the affair.
Meanwhile, about 120 convicts have been evacuated from Maca prison to protect them from the highly toxic fumes dumped near the facility following the death of one inmate, said a source at the correctional centre.
36 health centres
Six French waste disposal experts arrived in Ivory Coast on Friday to help with an emergency plan to neutralise toxic fumes emanating from the waste.
President Laurent Ggabgo’s office announced on Monday plans to build a bunker to hold tons of toxic waste in a bid to “contribute to the resolution” of the crisis, but gave no schedule for the construction.
It also announced that 36 health centres, four of them military medical staff as well as two mobile units were on hand to attend to victims of the poisoning.
A total of 538 tons of liquid waste was unloaded in August from a Panamanian-registered ship, according the port authorities.
Environmental pressure group Greenpeace said the sludge was made up of 400 tons of oil refining waste, rich in organic matter and poisonous elements.
The latter include hydrogen sulphide and organochloride, which cause nausea, rashes, fainting, diarrhoea and headaches.
Exact origin of the waste
The Greek company that owns the vessel, Prime Marine Management, confirmed the waste had been discharged, but said the action was lawful.
The “Probo Koala” was chartered by a Netherlands-based company, which said an Ivorian firm had been entrusted with handling the unloaded waste.
The exact origin of the waste has not yet been established.
Ivory Coast’s entire cabinet resigned on Wednesday owing to the poisoning scandal, which has triggered angry protests.
Prime minister Charles Konan Banny, who has been asked to form a new government, has accused his administration of “negligence” and promised to punish those responsible.
The sludge has polluted nearby streams and pools and burnt the grass.
The scandal has added to the woes of this west African state, where a UN-brokered peace process is battling to end four years of political crisis touched off by a failed coup against Ggabgo in 2002 that effectively split the country in two.