A court in Ivory Coast jailed two people over a deadly 2006 dumping of toxic waste which killed at least 17 people and poisoned thousands after a Dutch firm paid an African company to dispose 500 tons of toxic liquid.
An Ivorian man in an oxygen mask in Abijhan where toxic waste was dumped
It's a case of catching the little fish while watching the big fish wriggle away. At least for now. The little fish, also known as Salomon Ugborugo, was the head of the Ivory Coast company, which in 2006 agreed to dispose of 500 tons of liquid waste for the Big fish - - otherwise known as Dutch multinational firm Trafigura.
Ugborugo 's company did get rid of the waste. The problem was, they did so without treating it, and the resulting fumes killed an estimated 17 people and have made an estimated 100,000 people in Abidjan ill. Now, for his role Ugborugo is looking at 20 years behind bars. His partner at the city’s port will get 5 years. Ugborugo's lawyer says he's appalled by the verdict.
"The element of intention was clearly missing. I would have understood if he was only condemned of involuntary homicide." The lawyer insists that his client hadn’t been aware that the waste was so dangerous.
Who is to blame? The trail leads to the Netherlands
It’s hard to say how much Ugborugo actually knew about the dangerous load his company was dumping. But either way, if you follow the story back up the food chain, it doesn’t take long to get back to the Netherlands-based Trafigura.
Despite the clearing efforts, much of the toxic waste is still polluting the area
Marietta Harjono from Green Peace International, says she hopes the buck doesn’t just stop with Ugborugo. "Trafigura is a big, multi-billion dollar oil company," she says. "The only goal is to make as much money as possible."
Trafigura had tried to dispose of the waste in Amsterdam, hiding the fact that it was toxic. But once the truth came out, the tanker full of toxic liquid shipped off to Africa, hoping to bypass the hundreds of thousands euros it would have cost to safely treat the material. And that’s when the Trafigura story merged with Ugborugo’s.
200 million to avoid a lawsuit
When it became clear what had made people sick in Abidjan, Trafigura paid Ivory Coast more than $200 million to avoid a lawsuit in the West African country. It seems like a lot, but that amount could be peanuts compared to what the disaster has actually cost Ivory Coast in terms of health care and environmental clean up costs.
With that in mind the Netherlands has announced it’s suing Trafigura for illegal dumping practices and a law firm in England has agreed to bring a suit against the company on behalf of 30,000 plaintiffs affected by the waste in Abidjan. Unfortunately for the residents of Abidjan, regardless of the outcomes in the courts, the nightmare continues, with much of the toxic waste still polluting the air.