Ivorian toxic waste victims to seek compensation

British lawyers representing victims of toxic waste contamination that left ten people dead and thousands ill in Cote d'Ivoire have started gathering evidence against the London-based shipping company behind the incident.

The toxic chemical slops still spread around the Ivorian commercial capital Abidjan were dumped there last August after being unloaded from the Probo Koala, an oil tanker chartered by the UK arm of Dutch shipping giant Trafigura.

Although exactly how the poisonous material ended up being dumped at 17 sites around the city, most of them open air, the lawyers say that Trafigura must take responsibility for bringing the toxic waste that is responsible for people’s injuries into the country. Lawyers Leigh Day & Co. took on the no-fee case after being contacted by environmental group Greenpeace on behalf of the victims.

Trafigura denies responsibility, arguing that it left the chemical slops, which it says are a standard by-product of shipping gasoline, with a local waste disposal company, Tommy, which dumped the material around the city.

Ten people died and thousands suffered vomiting, diarrhoea, swollen stomachs and breathing problems after coming into contact with the toxic waste which has still not been removed from half of the sites.

As the decontamination effort continues and waste is shipped to France for treatment (see related story), the UN has said that the Ivory Coast could not afford the £15m clean-up bill.

UN under-secretary general Achim Steiner said that the Ivorian government was forced to make “tough, and what UNEP considers unacceptable choices for a country where many people live on less than a dollar a day including whether to pay the clean-up bill or the wages of medical staff at local hospitals”.

“Now they say they have simply run out of funds making it impossible for them to complete the clean-up and safe disposal of the toxic wastes in the Europe.

“Until assistance from others is forthcoming, it is almost impossible for the Ivorian authorities to move on towards the wider challenges such as rehabilitating contaminated sites, cleansing contaminated infrastructure like water supply systems and the broader human health and humanitarian needs,” he said.

Goska Romanowicz

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