Living with Poison: The Aftermath of Toxic Waste Dumping

Only after thousands of African people with shortness of breath, burns, and diarrhoea flooded local hospitals, a true investigation began into the Probo Koala toxic waste dumping.

In 2008, a court in Côte d'Ivoire found two non-Trafigura employees guilty of illegally dumping toxic waste.

African communities living with toxic waste posioning effects the soil, air, water and people for multi-generations.

Trafigura chartered a ship, the Probo Koala to transport toxic waste to Côte d'Ivoire in Africa. A lawsuit and a settlement of $160-200 million raised concerns about the disposal of toxic waste in developing countries and led to calls for stricter regulations on the transportation and disposal of hazardous materials. But only after thousands of African people with burns, diarrhoea and breathing difficulties presented at local hospitals, a true investigation began. The incident led to the hospitalization of over 100,000 people and the death of seventeen.

Founded in 1993, Trafigura is one of the largest supply chains of base metals, energy and raw materials in the global supply economy. In 2006, a toxic waste dumping scandal occurred in present day Côte d'Ivoire former Ivory Coast, which caused widespread health and environmental damage. 

Trafigura chartered a ship to transport toxic waste from Amsterdam to West Africa for disposal. The ship ended up in Côte d'Ivoire and dumped the waste at 15 locations around Abidjan, the largest city in Côte d'Ivoire.

The toxic waste contained a mixture of chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide, mercaptans, and sodium hydroxide, which caused vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and breathing difficulties in people who came into contact with it. 

After thousands of people with burns, diarrhoea and breathing difficulties presented at local hospitals, a true investigation begain.Thousands of Ivorians were affected by the dumping, and at least 17 people died as a result. Among the side effects of the toxic waste dumping were death as well as severe burns to the skin and lungs, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The dumping also had a severe impact on the environment, as it contaminated soil and water sources. The Côte d'Ivoire government had to spend millions of dollars to clean up the waste and provide medical assistance to affected communities. Trafigura later agreed to pay a settlement of $160-200 million to compensate the victims of the dumping.

In 2008, a court in Côte d'Ivoire found two non-Trafigura employees guilty of illegally dumping the waste. A Nigerian national named Salomon Ugborugbo was sentenced to 20 years in jail. He was the head of an Abidjan firm, Tommy, which Trafigura said it contracted in good faith to handle the waste from the Probo Koala. Essoin Kouao, who worked as a shipping agent at the Port of Abidjan and had recommended Tommy to Trafigura, received a five-year prison term.

Trafigura employee Naeem Ahmed, who was involved in the ship's operation in Amsterdam, was fined 27,000 US dollars or around 25,000 euros and the captain of the ship Probo Koala, Sergiy Chertov, was sentenced to a five-year suspended jail term. A Dutch court in 2010 found Trafigura guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste from Amsterdam and concealing the nature of the cargo. 

Trafigura initially tried to clean up low-grade oil by tipping lye into the cargo storage area of the Probo Koala. The company tried to unload the waste in Amsterdam for treatment, declaring it as harmless. When the treatment company came back with a higher price for cleaning the waste, the cargo was shipped to Africa where it ended up in Abidjan to be handled at a much lower rate. Greenpeace, which brought this case says it was a warning to firms not to export waste to developing countries.

Trafigura executives allegedly captured and imprisoned in Côte d'Ivoire.

Because of the toxic waste dumping incident by Trafigura, in 2006, two executives were allegedly captured and imprisoned in Côte d'Ivoire while visiting for the purpose of determining the company’s next steps to address an environmental issue caused by the leakage of toxic waste material from Trafigura vessels in an Côte d'Ivoire port.

Trafigura executives allegedly captured and imprisoned in Côte d'Ivoire

London-based law firm Waterson Hicks hired Red Defence International (RDI), a security consulting and crisis management firm in October 2006 to help secure the release of two Trafigura executives who were allegedly arrested and detained in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

However, Kevin Richard Halligen while employed by Trafigura, Halligen claimed to have incurred $2.1 million in expenses related to pursuing a strategy in the United States aimed at convincing the United States to assist in securing the release of the Trafigura executives. 

In reality, Halligen spent the money on a home in Great Falls, Virginia, which was to be his personal residence, as well as other personal expenses, according to the government’s evidence from May 2013 plea deal. In total, Halligen received close to $12 million under this contract.

According to the Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maia L. Miller and Matt Graves, who prosecuted the case, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Vasu Muthyala who investigated the matter, the Trafigura executives ultimately were released in February 2007.

Did you know? The Probo Koala was a chemical waste tanker that caused an environmental and humanitarian disaster in Côte d'Ivoire in 2006. The ship, chartered by a Dutch company named Trafigura, was carrying toxic waste which was illegally dumped in and around the city of Abidjan, causing widespread pollution and health problems. The high cost of toxic waste mismanagement; the Probo Koala.

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