Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

The Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste in the Mediterranean Regional Context

Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

The Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste in the Mediterranean Regional Context

Article excerpt



Despite some loopholes and ambiguities, the Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel, 22 March 1989)(1) should be considered a major achievement in international environmental law.(2) One of its main merits is the establishment of the concept of prior informed consent, according to which the State of export must previously notify any intended movement of hazardous waste to the State of import.(3) The Basel Convention put an end to the previous NIMBY ("Not in my Backyard") and OSOM ("Out of Sight, Out of Mind") practices which seem hardly compatible with the principles of cooperation, transparency and good neighbourliness that should inspire international relations.

As examples of what the situation was before the adoption of the Basel Convention, two cases which involved Italy may be recalled.(4) Of course, Italy and its nationals have not been the only protagonists of the transboundary traffic of hazardous waste. Several other industrialized countries and their nationals could be cited as well.(5) Nevertheless, the two cases in question have highlighted the need for both a new domestic and an international regime and have prompted the adoption of the relevant instruments.

a. The Seveso Drums

The Seveso incident, so called after the most affected locality, is a well known case of serious pollution by harmful substances, where the contamination extended beyond the limits of a chemical plant and involved a densely populated area located in four Italian municipalities.

On 10 July 1976 the safety valve of a reactor used in a chemical plant run in Meda, Italy, by the corporation ICMESA,(6) for the production of trichlorophenol burst. Blown by the winds, a cloud containing the highly toxic substance TCDD (tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin, commonly known as dioxin) polluted an area of 1,807 hectares. The damage caused by the accident was estimated at about 121 billion Italian liras (of that time), without taking into consideration compensation paid to people who suffered physical injuries.(7)

After the rehabilitation of the site, it turned out that on 10 September 1982, 41 drums containing soil polluted by the Seveso dioxin had crossed the border between Italy and France at Ventimiglia. It is likely that the customs officers did not realize that the drums actually contained the dioxin of the Seveso incident.(8) For several months there was no trace of the drums at all, despite the extensive efforts made by the governments concerned. The private companies involved in the movement kept silent. Articles about the mystery of the "wandering drums" were published in periodicals.

On 19 May 1983 the drums were finally located - sealed in a perfectly safe manner- in an abandoned slaughterhouse in the French village of Anguilcourt-le-Sart, were they had been deposited in the expectation of a final disposal.(9)

The facts prompted the Council of the European Economic Community(10) to adopt the directive No. 84/631 of 6 December 1984 (called the "Seveso II directive"), which established a regime for the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes within the Community.(11) Two aspects of the directive deserve particular attention: a) the principle of transparency, as any movement is subordinated to a previous communication to the States of import and transit; b) the principle of consent, as the States of import and transit can object to the movement. Under the directive, the two principles apply also in the case of movements from a Community member State to a third State.(12)

The same facts also prompted the Council of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to adopt the decision/recommendation of 1 February 1984 on transfrontier movements of hazardous waste and the decision/recommendation of 5 June 1986 on exports of hazardous wastes from the OECD area. …

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