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Oil company agrees to Ivory Coast waste settlement

September 21, 2009
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Oil-trading company Trafigura has agreed to a settlement with people who claim they fell ill after a tanker dumped hundreds of tons of waste around the Ivory Coast''s main city of Abidjan, according to the Associated Press. A spokeswoman for Trafigura Beheer BV said the company will pay 950 pounds ($1,546) per person but denied that the toxic waste has caused serious harm. She spoke anonymously in line with company policy. Trafigura would not comment on how many people it will pay, but British law firm Leigh Day, which brought the lawsuit, has said the case involves 30,000 people. Trafigura said in a statement that the waste from the tanker Probo Koala could have caused "low level flu-like symptoms and anxiety." It said there was no evidence the waste caused deaths, miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects or other serious conditions. Trafigura insists the waste was not toxic but had a mix of gasoline residues, water and caustic sodas used for cleaning. A U.N. expert on toxic waste, Okechukwu Ibeanu, said, however, that there appeared to be a connection between the waste and deaths and illnesses suffered by the local population. In a report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council last week, Ibeanu said 15 people had died, and 69 were hospitalized after the waste was offloaded in Abidjan in August 2006. Thousands of people visited health-care centers in Abidjan after the waste was dumped, complaining of nausea, headaches, vomiting, abdominal pains, skin reactions, pulmonary and gastric problems. Trafigura has said it does not accept legal liability for the incident, since a local contractor that acted independently of Trafigura carried out the dumping. The owner of the local company was jailed for 20 years in the Ivory Coast last year after being convicted of poisoning. Trafigura said it regretted the incident and accepted that the waste had a deeply unpleasant smell that distressed the local population, but denied that it could cause serious harm. Trafigura paid Ivory Coast''s government euro152 million in 2007 to assist in cleaning up the waste without admitting responsibility. Three Trafigura officials were held temporarily in an Ivorian prison but later released without charge. Trafigura still faces a criminal investigation in The Netherlands, for possibly exporting hazardous waste.
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