CAMBODIA: environmentalists demand further tests on dumped hazwaste

Following the dumping of 3,000 tonnes of Taiwanese hazardous wastes in Cambodia, the international environmental organisations Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network (BAN) called for a full battery of tests to take place on both the wastes and on those villagers who were exposed to them. They also called on the Cambodian government to immediately ban the import of hazardous wastes and ratify the Basel Convention.

The environmentalists called “irresponsible” those reports which claimed that no immediate danger was posed by the dumping (see last week’s story), especially as the known levels of mercury are extremely high, and very few of the other possible toxic contaminants have yet to be tested. And they noted that even the tests that have been made were from far too few samples to adequately represent the entire dump.

“We find it shocking that some authorities have already jumped to the conclusion that the wastes posed no threat while comprehensive chemical analysis and health studies have yet to be conducted,” said Von Hernandez of Greenpeace International. “This is especially irresponsible in light of the known deaths and sickness that have already been associated with the waste. The appropriate response in view of the lack of information is to take all precautionary measures to protect the public,” he said.

While one recently revealed study performed in Hong Kong has shown a sample of the waste to have a mercury level as extremely high as 10,971 ppm (over 1%), no studies have been performed on the many possible toxic substances such as pesticides, dioxins, furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and all organic forms of mercury.
Likewise, tests for possible damage from acute exposures to the immune system, nervous system and kidney disorders of those exposed have yet to be undertaken.

The groups further expressed fears that the difficulty in finding third countries to accept the hazardous wastes would be used as an excuse by Formosa Plastics to indefinitely delay re-export of the wastes. They called for a firm deadline to be imposed by which time the wastes must be removed and returned to Taiwan.

According to Reuters, a Formosa Plastics plant in Jenwu, Taiwan, was described this week as a “time bomb” by a local magistrate. An official investigation into the public safety and pollution control measures at the plant has been ordered after an explosion in one of the plant’s cracking units – the third serious accident at the plant in five years.

Greenpeace and BAN have called for a fast-track approach to implementing a full ban on the import of hazardous wastes into Cambodia, and ratification of the international Basel Convention and that treaty’s amendment banning hazardous waste trafficking from rich to poorer countries. They brought model legislation to Cambodia and presented it to Environment Minister Mok Mareth and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng in meetings on 18 January. At those meetings, both Ministers expressed their full commitment to achieving such a ban and Basel ratification at the earliest opportunity, says BAN.

Over 100 countries have already banned the import of hazardous wastes. In Asia, all coastal countries except Taiwan, North Korea and Cambodia have joined the Basel Convention.

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