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Ivory Coast Toxic Waste Death Toll Climbs to 15

Date: 19-Feb-07
Country: IVORY COAST
Author: Peter Murphy

Thousands of people fell ill with breathing difficulties, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea after slops were unloaded from a tanker chartered by international oil trader Trafigura and dumped at mainly open-air sites in the densely-populated city.

Trafigura denies any wrong-doing, saying it entrusted the waste to a registered Ivorian company but agreed a 100 billion CFA (US$200 million) settlement with the West African state on Tuesday which ended legal action the government was pursuing.

"The death toll of victims of the toxic waste ... is rising. The latest figures tell of 15 deaths caused by this waste," said a statement from the prime minister's office.

The five deaths, the latest of which occurred last November, were not initially included in the toll because most had died at home making it more difficult to establish the cause of death than with the first 10 who died in hospital, the statement said.

Most of the waste has now been collected by French hazardous waste specialists Tredi International and shipped to France for processing.

Much of the US$200 million Trafigura agreed to pay to the Ivorian government will be used to pay for the cost of the clean-up and medical care for tens of thousands who sought medical treatment after the waste was dumped.

Two Trafigura executives who had been imprisoned in Ivory Coast and faced charges of violating the country's toxic waste and poisoning laws, were freed the following day.

Opposition politicians, rights groups and victims' associations have denounced the deal which they say was signed without their consultation and they question its legality.

A British court agreed earlier this month to hear a class action case brought against Trafigura by law firm Leigh Day & Co which is seeking cash compensation for what it estimates are around 4,000-5,000 people who were hurt by the waste.

The firm says the case will proceed until victims are paid the full value of their compensation claims for ill health they suffered from exposure to fumes from the waste.

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