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Ivory Coast Pollution Crisis Worsens Sharply

A man protects himself from the smell 13 September 2006 in front of a dump in an Abidjan's district. A large amount of toxic waste dumped by a Netherlands-based multinational firm in the Ivory Coast capital is in the sea and near market gardening areas, a UN representative said, expressing fears that it may have spread to the food chain. Ivorian officials say six people, including four children, have died and 10,000 sought medical consultations at more than 30 health centres since the waste was unloaded in August. Photo courtesy AFP
by Emmanuel Duparq
Abidjan (AFP) Sep 13, 2006
Ivory Coast's toxic waste scandal worsened sharply on Wednesday, with French experts saying it was "urgent" to remove the hundreds of tonnes of poisonous sludge dumped in the economic capital Abidjan and local doctors receiving nearly 16,000 calls for medical help. "There were a total of 15,749 (doctors') consultations by yesterday evening," health ministry spokesman Simeon N'Da said. The numbers have soared 10,000 a day earlier.

"Of these, 23 people have been hospitalised and six have died," he told AFP. Four of the dead are children.

N'Da said it was unclear how many people had consulted their doctors' more than once, fearing they had been poisoned.

A team of French waste experts despatched to the west African state has recommended emergency measures to tackle the toxic sludge, which it says has already contaminated streams and lakes in the city of four million people.

"The experts' report calls for urgent action to tackle the waste, which must first of all be removed and treated," a source close to the team told AFP on Wednesday.

The report was submitted to Prime Minister Charles Kona Banny on Tuesday night but he is not due to make it public until the weekend.

At that point -- a month after the 500-plus tonnes of waste were dumped on 14 open-air rubbish tips in the city -- Banny is expected to announce "drastic" measures to protect the population.

Those measures, expected to focus on ensuring vegetables and fish are fit for human consumption, may already be too late.

On Tuesday the United Nations voiced fears that toxins from the waste -- much of which it said was tipped into the sea, into a lagoon and onto dumps near market gardening areas -- may already have spread to the food chain.

And Abidjan residents have begun dumping rubbish en masse into the streets because the 14 contaminated rubbish tips have been placed out of bounds.

The toxic waste at the heart of the crisis is a mixture of oil residue and of caustic soda used to rinse that residue out of the tanks of a Greek-owned cargo ship.

Dutch-based multinational trading company Trafigura, which operates the "Probo Koala", insisted on Tuesday that it had handed the waste over to Ivorian firm Tommy to dispose of correctly.

Tommy is blamed for dumping the sludge -- which has caused nausea, rashes, fainting, diarrhoea and headaches -- onto ordinary Abidjan tips in August. Trafigura had planned to offload the oil sludge in Amsterdam in July but the Dutch authorities said they had refused to accept it because it was too toxic. The Dutch firm said it had finally offloaded the waste in Abidjan, on its way back from delivering a cargo of Estonian petrol to Nigeria, because the port was "one of the best equipped in west Africa" to treat it.

The Ivory Coast government resigned last week over the pollution scandal and seven people, including the heads of Tommy and two other local companies, have been arrested.

The health ministry announced on Wednesday it was recruiting 1,031 "young unemployed doctors, surgeons, dentists and chemists" to help cope with the flood of people seeking medical help.

Two Dutch environmental experts left on Monday to join the six French and three UN experts already in Abidjan and Switzerland is also planning to send help.

The report by the French experts says Abidjan's drinking water has not been contaminated and that much of the air-borne pollution from the sludge has already evaporated, thus reducing future risks of poisoning by inhalation.

But the rainwater cycle -- streams and lakes -- has been tainted, according to the source close to the team.

The UN is to launch an inquiry into the transportation and disposal of toxic waste under international dumping conventions.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Environmentalists are up in arms over India's plans to convert Andamans into a holiday hot-spot, arguing the step could turn the pristine archipelago into an ecological garbage dump. Greens groups on the Indian Ocean archipelago say New Delhi must install a proper waste management system before implementing plans to lease 50 new sites on 15 palm-fringed islands to hoteliers, resort-builders and tour operators.

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