UN helps Côte d’Ivoire to assess impact of deadly toxic waste dumping on food chain

23 October 2006

United Nations agencies and the Côte d’Ivoire Government are currently preparing a study on the possible effects on the food chain of the dumping of toxic chemical waste around the country’s largest city, Abidjan, which has killed 12 people and led 104,000 others to seek medical care.

In its latest update, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the situation was improving, with the daily number of those seeking medical advice dropping to 70 from 3,600 last month.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are collaborating in investigating the severity and extent of ill health and other effects after a ship unloaded some 500 tonnes of petrochemical waste in August into trucks, which then dumped it in at least 15 sites around Abidjan, a city of 5 million.

The waste contained a mixture of petroleum distillates, hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, phenolic compounds and sodium hydroxide, and a few days later thousands of people started complaining of ill health and seeking medical help.

Symptoms have included nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting, headaches, skin and eye irritation and respiratory symptoms. According to physicians on duty during the first days, the most severely affected were suffering respiratory distress, dehydration and intestinal bleeding. Many people are also seeking medical advice because they are anxious about the potential long-term consequences on their health and that of their children.

The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) has determined that the dumping is clearly a crime although who was responsible and the actual nature of the crime has yet to be determined. Following a formal request from the Government, UNEP is conducting an investigation through the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which it administers.

Under the Convention’s terms, any nation exporting hazardous waste must obtain prior written permission from the importing country, as well as a permit detailing the contents and destination of the waste. If the waste has been transferred illegally, the exporter is obliged to take back the waste and pay the costs of any damages and clean-up process.

 

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