Dumping on Africa: West exports its industrial wastes
(Page 2 of 2)
In Nigeria, Italian and West German ships brought between 3,500 and 4,000 tons of waste to dump in the port of Koko. It is believed to contain radioactive material and one of the most toxic substances in existence. One Italian is said to be among the detainees. The Nigerian government says it intends to try and execute convicted offenders - including foreigners. Bonnie Ram, of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, says the waste could be from Europe.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In 1985, two Americans, Charles and Jack Colbert, were jailed in the US for exporting 1,500 gallons of toxic waste to Zimbabwe under the guise of cleaning fluid. There are also reports, Ms. Ram says, of radioactive wastes dumped in Benin, allegedly from France; French officials say they have no knowledge of the incidents.
Despite the air of scandal surrounding the issue, some African countries continue to make arrangements to dispose of foreign waste. A company in the Netherlands, Zatec Services, plans to ship chemical and industrial wastes to three African nations, where landfills are to be built by a British contractor beginning soon.
``There are some advantages in African countries above countries with a lot of people,'' says Bernard van Zadelhof, president of Zatec. ``It rains less, so the soil underground is almost water-tight.'' However, he adds that ``it is unwise to put waste in a desert where it is not controlled and where the wind blows it or where people can get to it.'' Mr. Van Zadelhof says the ``depots,'' or landfills, scheduled to be built will be completely lined and equipped with drainage systems.
(Researchers say disposing of waste in areas with high rainfall - such as Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Nigeria, and the Congo - is highly dangerous because of the likelihood of contaminating ground water.)
Van Zadelhof says he already has many prospective customers for his venture. ``If I wanted to, I could have made contracts for hundreds of thousands of tons of waste a year from the US and Europe. But we won't accept contracts before the landfill is ready. The contracts will be subject to import authorization in Africa when the depots are ready and authorized. At least six months from now the first depot will be ready.''
Meanwhile, government representatives from 40 countries recently met in Venezuela to draft an international convention (to be completed next year) that would regulate the ``waste trade.''
According to Greenpeace, the industrialized countries wish to officially legalize the practice in cases of ``prior informed consent.'' This would enable industrialized nations to dispose of their wastes, and the developing countries to make some profit as a dumping ground, as long as the shippers fully inform receiving countries of any hazards involved.
``The convention appears to be modeled after existing US and European regulations which have done nothing to prevent the flow of wastes from industrialized countries to less-developed countries,'' says Vallette. ``We see no moral or scientific justification for the shipment of wastes from one country to another. We would like to see it out-and-out banned.''
In the US Congress, Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan is currently drafting a bill that would ban all exports of incinerator ash and ban or severely curtail the export of hazardous waste. Congressional hearings on this are scheduled for this month. A Senate bill calls for public hearings before exporting waste.
Environmentalists are particularly concerned about the limited ability of developing countries to process waste and prevent health hazards.
``Most of the recipient nations are so poor, and have such limited disposal capacities and such rudimentary infrastructure for dealing with waste, that it poses a large threat,'' says Hilary French of Worldwatch, a Washington-based research organization. ``The waste is going to end up in inadequate facilities with serious public health consequences.''
Vallete says the use of incineration and landfills is ``an interim solution,'' and that there is no safe method of waste disposal. ``The responsible way of responding to this problem is to reduce and prevent the generation of these wastes at the source.''