American industry is desperately seeking places to dump hazardous waste
and household garbage. A reporter for the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR'S
bureau in Sydney, Australia, phoned recently to inquire what we knew
about the toxicity of leachate from municipal dumps. (We faxed him RHWN
#90, "Leachate from Municipal Dumps has Same Toxicity as Leachate from
Hazardous Waste Dumps."). He was investigating a promoter named Dan
Fleming, who is angling to sign a contract with natives of the Marshall
Islands, where Mr. Fleming hopes to dump 10% of all the household
garbage produced on the U.S. West Coast. Mr. Fleming says his scheme
will "create new land" in the Marshalls. Mr. Fleming says if the
Marshalls don't increase their altitude by heaping on the garbage,
they'll disappear beneath the sea, victims of the greenhouse effect.
The last time the U.S. undertook largescale experiments in the
Marshalls, it had ill effects on the land: we tested the H-bomb on
Bikini atoll, which promptly disappeared, leaving behind a legacy of
cancer and misery that the Marshall Islanders (and many unsuspecting
U.S. Navy men) are still enduring. So far as we know, the only
environmental group tracking this latest scam is Greenpeace; they wrote
about it in GREENPEACE MAGAZINE March/April, 1989, pg. 5. The magazine
is yours six times a year for a donation of $20 to Greenpeace, 1436 U
Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009.
As the price of hazardous waste disposal in the "civilized world" is
approaching $2500 per ton in some areas, a new "profession" has
emerged: international "waste merchants," who arrange to dump the stuff
in third world countries. In the last two years, Africa has emerged as
the favored target. Consider these facts:
In March, 1988, a Norwegian ship dumped 15,000 tons of material labeled
"raw material for bricks" in a quarry on Kassa Island, off the mainland
capital of Conakry, Guinea. Guinea is a small west-African country
bordered by Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mali. In June, Guinea newspapers
reported that vegetation on the island was drying up and dying.
Investigations revealed that the "raw material for bricks" was toxic
incinerator ash from Philadelphia's now-infamous garbage burners.
Norway's Honorary Consul, Mr. Sigmund Stromme, was arrested and charged
with forging documents in order to bring in the shipment; Mr. Stromme
turned out to be a principal in Guinomar, the company that had a
contract to bring in a total of 85,000 tons of Philadelphia's ash. By
July the original shipment had been removed from Kassa.
On February 9, 1989, Guinea-Bissau, a west-African neighbor of Guinea,
signed a five-year contract with two British companies to receive 15
million tons of tanning and pharmaceutical wastes for a payment of $600
million ($40 per ton). The wastes would come from U.S. and European
firms. (This contract has since been canceled due to unfavorable
An undetermined quantity of hazardous wastes from U.S. military
agencies was dumped in a phosphate mine pit in Zimbabwe in southern
Africa. The U.S. exporters responsible, Jack and Charles Colbert, were
sentenced in February, 1988, to 13 years' imprisonment for fraudulent
WEST AFRICA HOTLINE, a newsletter, reports that President Bongo of
Gabon (bordering Cameroon and the Congo) met with representatives of
the Denis Mining Company in 1987 and agreed to take radioactive mine
wastes from Colorado uranium mines.
A report in ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, a journal of the
American Chemical Society, quotes Greenpeace saying a Dutch shipping
company signed a contract with the government of the Congo (bordering
Zaire and Cameroon) to deliver a million tons of solvent, paint,
pesticide sludge, and chemical wastes from the U.S. and Europe between
June, 1988, and May, 1989, for a fee of $84 million ($84 per ton). Bad
publicity subsequently queered this deal too.
President Kerekou of Benin, a tiny country sandwiched between Nigeria
and Togo, signed a contract in January, 1988, with a Gibralter firm,
Sesco, Ltd, agreeing that Benin will take up to five million tons per
year of non-nuclear industrial wastes from North America and Europe.
The price? Two dollars and fifty cents per ton.
Nigeria has taken the lead in denouncing waste dumping in Africa. At
the Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in May, 1988, President
Babangida of Nigeria said "No government, no matter the financial
inducement, has the right to mortgage the destiny of future generations
of African children."
Ironically, within a week of President Babangida's speech, eight
Nigerian students living in Italy, reacting to reports in Italian
newspapers, alerted the Nigerian government to a scheme involving
collusion between Nigerian and Italian businessmen. The men had shipped
3800 tons of hazardous wastes and stored them in Koko, Nigeria. The
chief Italian suspect escaped from Nigeria June 2, but 15 Nigerians are
awaiting trial. The newspapers in Nigeria June 14 carried headlines,
"Culprits may face firing squad," and "Death penalty likely."
African journalist Arti Vir, writing in ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND
TECHNOLOGY (Vol. 23, March, 1989, pgs. 23-25) summed it up:
"...the demands by Nigeria and Guinea that foreign governments remove
illegally dumped hazardous materials from their territories are
warnings to industrial nations to keep waste away from African shores."
NIGERIA'S FIRING SQUADS WILL PERHAPS CONVINCE WOULD-BE WASTE MERCHANTS
THAT AFRICA IS SERIOUS ABOUT PROTECTING ITSELF FROM PREDATORY
We have just scratched the surface here. This problem is broad and deep
and getting worse. However, there's a bright side: the toxics
campaigners in Greenpeace, led by Dave Rapoport, are on this case in a
major way. In January, 1989, Jim Vallette published the fourth edition
of his INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN WASTES: A GREENPEACE INVENTORY (144 pages
of horror stories from all parts of the globe). The INVENTORY, which is
available in English, German, French and Spanish editions, also
contains policy statements by various governments. In general, the
"civilized" nations want to "control" and "manage" the import and
export of toxics wastes to the developing world. For their part, the
developing nations, particularly those in Africa, favor a total ban on
the international waste trade. Togo's environment minister, Yao
Komlavi, sums up this view, saying, "If Africa is not going to import
toxic waste, what control do we need on such imports?"
Greenpeace is publishing a newsletter called GREENPEACE WASTE TRADE
UPDATE. With the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace has
joined organizations in Malaysia and Kenya founding Itwan, the
International Toxic Waste Action Network, working closely with the
United Nations, pressing for passage of the U.N.'s "Global Convention
on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes." Once again, hats
off to the toxics campaigners at Greenpeace! Contact them at 1436 U
Street, NW, Washington, Dc 20009; phone (202) 462-1177."
Descriptor terms: international waste trade; greenpeace; africa;
marshall islands; pacific rim; guinea; ash; philadelphia, pa; guinea-
bissau; zimbabwe; gabon; uranium; mine wastes; mining; congo; benin;
nigeria; togo; malaysia; kenya; united nations; treaties; developing
countries; health effects; radioactive waste; native people; nuclear