Monday, September 29, 2008

Ivorians tried for mass poisoning

Ivorians tried for mass poisoning

Contaminated earth collected into giant bags
Much of the chemical waste still remains in Abidjan

Twelve people have gone on trial in Ivory Coast accused of dumping toxic waste blamed for 17 deaths and led 100,000 to seek medical treatment.

Some 500 tons of chemical waste from the oil industry were dumped two years ago in the biggest city, Abidjan.

Those on trial include the head of a local company, Tommy, that signed the deal to treat the waste with the Dutch multinational, Trafigura.

They are accused of charges including poisoning and complicity to poison.

Also on trial are a number of port and customs officials.

The BBC's John James reports from Abidjan that families of the victims are happy the trial has begun, but there is anger that no-one from Trafigura is in court - nor some of the more senior government and port officials accused of turning a blind eye.

Soon after the waste was dumped, people began complaining of breathing problems and rashes.

In an earlier out of court settlement, Trafigura agreed to pay the Ivorian government about $200m (£108m) in one of the largest payments of its kind.

The company never admitted liability, saying the payment was made out of sympathy for Ivorian people.

It also disputes whether the chemical slops were the cause of the large number of medical complaints.

The firm says it contracted Tommy to handle the waste in good faith.

Two years on, much of the waste remains where it was dumped and people still complain of illnesses and abnormal births linked to the waste, our correspondent says.

The trial is expected to last at least two weeks.