Developing Nations Used as Dumps: Industrial Waste Proves Harmful to Inhabitants

By Bowers, Paige | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 9, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Developing Nations Used as Dumps: Industrial Waste Proves Harmful to Inhabitants


Bowers, Paige, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Several weeks ago in New Delhi, victims of the world's worst industrial accident gathered outside Parliament to protest a Supreme Court decision to drop manslaughter charges in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak.

More than 15,000 people have died since toxic gas leaked from a Union Carbide-affiliated pesticide plant 12 years ago. Most of the deaths are from what a Bhopal claims court says are the long-term effects of the gas.

But New Delhi is facing newer problems, mainly the thousands of tons of toxic waste illegally imported through its ports, waste that is affecting the nervous systems and poisoning the blood of the city's residents.

India is not alone in its troubles. Several other developing countries around the world have problems with industrial accidents and curbing the illegal influx of waste into their ports.

Much of this waste comes from larger, more industrialized nations, a situation that the world's environmental watchdog, Greenpeace, says is getting "completely out of control."

The United States tops the list of offending exporter nations outlined in Greenpeace's report, followed by Australia and Canada. The United States hasn't ratified the Basel Convention treaty, which bans exporting wastes, because a Greenpeace spokesman said Washington believed it would not do enough to improve the environment and would not help trade.

GREENPEACE FEARS ACCIDENT

Groups like the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) say America's reasons for not ratifying the treaty are valid.

"The treaty is trying to ban all exports of recyclable materials between OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] and non-OECD countries," CEI research associate James Sheehan said.

"Greenpeace fears a major accident with toxic dumping. If you put a blanket ban in the treaty, it will prevent the export of useful items, like scrap metal. A country like the Philippines could find some of these other items useful and sell them," he said.

The Basel Convention was approved in March 1989 by 105 nations and marked the first international attempt to limit the dumping of toxic wastes in developing countries.

It was a compromise between major industrial nations seeking flexibility for safe waste exports and Third World governments wanting an outright ban on waste imports that put their populations at risk.

The treaty requires the government exporting wastes to get a prior written permit from the government of the country where the toxic residue is to be sent. This was intended to allow governments to halt any unwanted shipments of waste.

CEI is against the treaty, saying it restricts free trade. It believes exporting such materials to developing countries would help them jump-start their economies.

"The real environmental problem is poverty," Mr. Sheehan said. "The poor are less likely to be concerned about what the U.S. is concerned about. . . . So we need to give them more economic opportunities so their incomes can rise and create more wealth."

The World Trade Organization's Committee on Trade and the Environment said in a Nov. 18 report that general international standards would not be enough to keep countries from exporting their wastes. The panel said equivalent standards needed to be developed for what can and can't be imported so that it doesn't conflict with free-trade concerns.

And some say not being able to export these wastes is restrictive.

THE WASTE TRADE

"It is fundamentally illogical that a country like the U.S. should give all its waste to other Americans. Poorer countries should have the opportunity to dispose of or recycle American waste just as Americans can have the opportunity to do that," Mr. Sheehan said.

Those who argue that the "waste trade" is economically viable for developing countries might have a difficult time proving that to a country such as Lebanon, though.

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