ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Authorities arrested and charged two executives of a Dutch commodities company whose dumped toxic waste has caused seven deaths and widespread sickness in the Ivory Coast's largest city, a government official said Monday.
The toxic waste, which U.N. experts say contains the potentially dangerous chemical hydrogen sulfide, was shipped to Abidjan last month by a vessel chartered by commodities trader Trafigura Beheer BV and dumped — apparently illegally — across the city. The Dutch company said it was dumped by a local contractor.
Hospitals have provided free treatment to 44,000 people in the past few weeks, many of them complaining of nausea, headaches, and breathing difficulties caused by the foul-smelling substance, the health ministry said.
Ali Yeo, a justice ministry official, said the two executives of Trafigura Beheer BV — both French nationals — went before a judge Monday afternoon and were charged with poisoning and infractions of toxic waste laws. They were sent to prison.
The two were prevented from leaving the country Saturday as they were about to board a flight to Europe.
Trafigura Beheer confirmed its director, Claude Dauphin, and its West Africa manager, Jean-Pierre Valentini, were "working with the authorities in Ivory Coast as witnesses in the ongoing investigations."
Trafigura Beheer has said the cargo unloaded by the Panama-registered tanker consisted of residue washings, or slops, from a gasoline-blend stock. The company said it asked the Ivorian authorities to dispose of the cargo correctly.
A French waste removal company began a clean up operation Sunday at the main garbage dump, the worst of 14 dump sites affected in Abidjan. Removing the waste was expected to take two weeks.
Mounting public anger over the fumes resulted in the resignation of the government earlier this month. The ministers of transport and environment have been replaced in the new 36-member Cabinet that was appointed over the weekend. Most other ministers were reappointed to their same posts.