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Côte d'Ivoire
Society | Environment - Nature

Ivorians tried for mass poisoning

afrol News, 29 September - Ivory Coast has began trial for 12 people charged with involvement in 2006 toxic waste pollution scandal, which killed 17 people and poisoned thousands of others in Ivory Coast.

The 12 are charged with "poisoning or complicity to poison" in illicit dumping of 500 tonnes of caustic soda and petroleum residues across more than a dozen open-air rubbish tips around commercial capital Abidjan.

Accused include boss of Ivorian company which dumped waste at several public sites, contamination from which forced more than 100,000 people to seek medical help.

Toxic sludge was said to have been brought into Ivory Coast by Dutch-based multinational trading company Trafigura. However, none of the directors of Trafigura, Dutch multinational which operated the ship which brought the waste to Ivory Coast, will face trial.

Trafigura escaped prosecution after reaching US$200 million-dollar settlement with Ivorian government in February last year in return for indemnity against prosecution. The company has never admitted liability.

It also disputes whether chemical slops were cause of the large number of medical complaints. The firm says it had contracted Tommy to handle the waste in good faith.

As of end of last year, Ivory Coast had paid 31.5 million euros to about half the estimated people poisoned.

The incidents date from August 2006 when truck tankers hired by Salomon Ugborugbo, director general of Ivorian company Tommy, dumped more than 500 cubic metres of waste slops from Panamanian-registered cargo ship, Probo Koala, at public sites across Abidjan.

The slops were a mix of petroleum residues, sulphur and caustic soda which had accumulated in the ship. Exposure to the waste is believed to be a cause for respiratory difficulties, nausea and other medical problems among local population.

Mr Ugoborugbo is charged with poisoning, while six others, are accused of complicity, including former head of Abidjan's port authority, two shipping agents employed by Trafigura to oversee Probo Koala's sojourn in Abidjan, and three customs officials who supervised pumping out of the ship's slops.

Five others, including transport ministry official responsible for Abdijan port, are charged with breaking environmental and public safety laws.

The accused face life imprisonment if convicted.

Three of the accused, a port agent and two garage operators, failed to turn up for the trial. The case is being held in Abdijan assises court, which has not met since west African country's political unrest in 2002.

The trial is expected to last around two weeks.

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