SRI LANKA: US Embassy says buried waste is not dangerous

People living nearby buried waste from a Voice of America relay station have complained of physical ailments and animal deaths. The US Embassy has stated that the waste is "not harmful to people, to animals or to the environment".

“There is nothing underground that harms anyone,” Peter Claussen of the US Embassy told edie. “This is Sri Lanka, so we are co-operating with the Sri Lankan authorities and we will do whatever they are comfortable with.”

Newspapers reported local residents’ complaints of throat irritation, swelling joints, allergies and the deaths of several cows and dogs since the waste was buried last month. Following the newspaper articles, the US Embassy released a statement saying that its waste disposal contractor, Marconi Communications Inc, had “determined that nearly all this material was simply trash and – according to all international environmental standards as well as Sri Lankan law and regulations – could be safely disposed in a local landfill site”.

The waste derived from a fire at the Voice of America relay station in Iranawila, in north western Chilaw. The fire took place in November 1996.

The US Embassy has acknowledged that Marconi Communications gained authorisation to bury the waste directly from the chief monk of the Thinipiti Viharaya temple in Madampe, on whose land the landfill site is located. According to the Embassy statement, Marconi negotiated with the chief monk of the temple after a disagreement with its usual waste disposal subcontractor over “the amount he intended to charge”.

The Sri Lankan Sunday Times reported that villagers’ protests led the chief monk to obtain a report from Marconi regarding the contents of the waste. The report allegedly states that the waste – dumped in a pit 100 feet long, 4 feet wide and 8 feet deep – contains small quantities of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium.

The Embassy statement emphasises the lengths its contractor, Marconi, has gone in following international practice, “in contrast to the widespread local custom of open dumping”.

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