Controversy in the UK over Ivory Coast toxic disaster

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In 2006, more than 30,000 Ivorians fell victim to high levels of poisonous gasses from a lethal toxic waste which was dumped by an European Oil company, Trafigura, British and Ivorian press sources revealed. Thousands of Ivoirians were reportedly rushed to local clinics, following the discovery of the dumped wastes, where nearly twenty people died. Up to seventy affected persons were hospitalised and a record 108,000 sought medical advice. Trafigura have claimed that there is no link between the gasses and the health disaster.

In the past few weeks, the controversial and toxic issue has resurfaced in the UK. British Journalists and Members of Parliament have found themselves in a rather stifling position to openly discuss a confidential report incriminating Trafigura after a ‘super-injunction’ was obtained from the high court by Trafigura’s lawyers.

Journalists from the Guardian newspaper, last month claimed to have obtained detailed confidential draft documents that stated that the waste dumped by Trafigura in West Africa was potentially highly toxic and capable of severe effects on human health.

The document also revealed that the company was willing to pay a ‘historic’ amount in compensation to the 31,000 people injured from the toxic waste disaster. Matyn Day, a senior British lawyer negotiating compensations for the affected Ivoirians was said to have arrived at a deal of £100m to those affected. “The claimants are very pleased.” He was quoted by the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Trafigura stubbornly insist that they had not reached any deal with claimants and since last month, according to sources, their lawyers have been doing their level best to prevent the media in the United Kingdom to talk about the subject matter. Carter-Ruck, lawyers for Trafigura, demanded that the Guardian media delete all already published articles on the case and threatened to sue her for a “gravely defamatory” and “untrue” story. The lawyer also, reportedly, threatened the BBC TV, a Dutch newspaper, Volkskrant and a Norwegian TV with gagging actions.

But the journalists were unmoved and went ahead to publish more implicating details involving correspondence within Trafigura. It revealed how the company’s managing director, Claude Dauphin told the London manager, Naheem Ahmed on how dangerous the toxic waste was. “Caustic washes are banned by most countries due to the hazardous nature of the waste (mercaptans, phenols, smell) … there are not many facilities remaining in the market. There is a company in Rotterdam that burns such waste in a high stack chimney and charges are approximately $200/kg,” Dauphin wrote.

“US/Singapore and European terminals no longer allow the use of caustic soda washes since local environmental agencies do not allow disposal of the toxic caustic after treatment.”Ahmed replied — Documents obtained by the Guardian revealed. They, however, concluded to dump it in Africa after offering a local tanker driver an unspecified amount of money hoping to make some $7m in profit. The result was disastrous for The Ivory Coast. The health problems were severe and the scandal so damaging that it cost three Ivorian ministers their jobs for negligence on the issue. President Laurent Gbagbo threw them out of his government.

Only two weeks ago, the British parliament decided to debate the effect of ‘super-injunctions’, such as the one obtained by Trafigura’s lawyers, Carter-Ruck, on the freedom of speech. The law firm once again tried to prevent the debate saying it was ‘sub judice’, meaning it was before the court. He was unsuccessful this time as the Speaker of the house, John Bercow, last week said parliament would go ahead with the debate anyway. In fact, a furious member of parliament decided to write to every member to register his anger on the matter. “Carter-Ruck have got a real nerve, firstly they tried and failed to suppress news that they had obtained a gagging order against the Guardian. Then they tried to ask the Speaker to gag parliament itself. This affair has shown us that privileges protecting press freedom are sometimes only as strong as their assertion. The Speaker and parliament must stand up to people like Carter-Ruck who aggressively try to encroach on these freedoms,” said MP Paul Farrelly.

Africa has been a dumping ground for tons of poisonous and dangerous waste for the past three decades. Earlier this year, a documentary on Skynews revealed that dangerous waste, that should under European law be recycled, were packed into cargo containers and illegally dumped in Ghana and Nigeria.

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