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Toxic Dumps NIMBY?

August 12, 2010 in Environment

I am always thinking and talking about not adding more non-biodegradable waste to the landfills. Personal responsibility is what is being talked about because that is where we all can: as individuals, families and communities make a difference for the betterment of the environment and our planets future. In the midst of this sometimes one kind of does not notice the waste generated by the corporations and factories which also make their way to landfills which we don’t get to hear about because they generally are not in our backyards…

The reason for my noticing or rather posting about this hazard is the about to be settled one of the largest ever class action lawsuits in the UK. This was about the illegal dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast three years ago. The case is against Trafigura one of the largest independent companies trading commodities today.

The chemical waste came from a ship called Probo Koala and in August 2006 truckload after truckload of it was illegally fly-tipped at 15 locations around Abidjan, the biggest city in Ivory Coast. In the weeks that followed the dumping, tens of thousands of people reported a range of similar symptoms, including breathing problems, sickness and diarrhea.

The story of this toxic waste dump started in a Mexican Oil refinery in 2005, the toxic byproduct of petroleum refining coker naptha, a dirty form of gasoline which could not be treated on site. Trafigura realized it can make a killing by buying the waste cheap and refining it elsewhere. So it charters Probo Koala loads the coker naptha and while off the coast of Gibraltar they added caustic soda and a catalyst to it, to clean it by the process called caustic washing. As a result of this process a highly toxic waste is produced which is banned universally. So they tried to pass it off on the Dutch as harmless oil-water mixture which was routine stuff, which the Dutch authorities tested due to the strong smell emanating from the waste and found to be toxic. Then it was packed off back on the Probo koala and Trafigura was told if they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars it could be treated and neutralized. Trafigura took the easy way out and found a local contractor who had no knowledge of what to do with the toxic stuff and dumped it in Ivory Coast or Cote De Ivorie as it is now known.

When the sickness and death surfaced there was immediate reaction in form of a class action suit by Greenpeace in the name of 31,000 people who were adversely affected by the toxic waste. That case garnered interest and the UK press covered it extensively. The settlement has come about as it came to light that Trafigura employees had knowledge about what was happening throughout. BBC had an in depth article about the incident which it supposedly took off its website in late 2009. The article can be found HERE on wikileaks.

Now Trafigura, which has been for years claiming it has done nothing wrong, has agreed to a Global settlement. It still claims it has not done anything wrong, it blames the contractor for the untreated waste being dumped in the landfills. At last something positive might be coming out of gross negligence on the part of a huge multinational and how little it cared about human life.

This is just an example of what is going on world over, most of the “recycle” tagged electronic wastes make it to ports in Asia and Africa where laws are laxer and the companies or governments or in some cases both close their eyes and turn their backs unless something substantial happens. Nuclear wastes, industrial waste etc… every kind of waste that needs to be neutralized before making it to a landfill makes its way out of the producing countries because of strict regulations.

Large number of the ships in the world head to the Coast of Gujarat in India to die! Ships were once either sunk or taken apart in the countries where they were built, before high costs and environmental restrictions drove ship breaking efforts elsewhere. 80% of ships these days are broken down in The Indian subcontinent and China.

There they are stripped down and the metal is reclaimed, some of those vessels would have harmful chemicals etc on them including asbestos and PCB’s (Poly chlorinated Biphenyls) which unbeknownst to the workers who harvest the metal, take a toll on their health which would be visible may be many years later. Environmentalists have been talking about this for years and nobody seems to pay much attention at all. It is also interesting to see that in spite of these risks many workers do not even get basic protective gear while working to dismantle these ships.

Articles about Ship breaking dumps – Greenpeace

India World Shipping’s toxic Waste Dump

Also check out toxic victories by Greenpeace

Electronic Waste makes it way to Asia and Africa. The third world pretty much takes on the responsibility of being the waste dump as the poverty and cheap manual labor makes it lucrative for businesses there to take on these shipments and turn profit. The health impact and the environmental impact are mostly not paid any attention what so ever. Europe exporting electronic waste a report from the BBC

Toxic waste appears in many forms and in the end if they are not neutralized: which is costly in Dollars, but even costlier if it gets into the environment needs to be paid attention to. Hold our work places responsible, it is personal when it is about the environment. Factories and Multinationals and all organizations at the end of the day are made of people and we decide to do the right thing not just for the bottom line but for the future of generations who will be living on our planet, I believe we will try our best not to do what we don’t want in our back yard anywhere else. In some ways dumping toxic waste on the developing world by the developed nations could be termed Environmental racism.

Check out this video by Greenpeace to see how it is recycled and reclaimed in the developing world… Eye opening video

I believe the world is connected in more ways than we can imagine, and the similarities between people is much more than the differences we have and what happens in one place can have an impact on the rest of the world… Live Green!

Want to do something about it Join Greenpeace

UPDATE August 13th 2010 – Check out this article in the NYTIMES Magazine Where computers go to die…

Sources and interesting reads:

Wikipedia

BBC

List of Hazardous waste landfills in the US

Americas Nastiest Toxic waste dumps

Shocking -Are you walking around with Toxics?

Mob allegedly Dumping radioactive waste in the Sea!

EPA internal investigation into San Joaquim valley community and its toxic dump