Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes into Lebanon: Part 1. the Silent Trade

By Jurdi, Mey | Journal of Environmental Health, January-February 2002 | Go to article overview

Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes into Lebanon: Part 1. the Silent Trade


Jurdi, Mey, Journal of Environmental Health


Background

The "silent trade" of hazardous wastes was recognized as a major environmental threat long before the 1989 Basel Convention, which set global rules for the international waste trade (Asante-Duah, Saccomanno, & Shortreed, 1992; Fry, 1989). Prior to that convention, countries around the world were becoming increasingly aware of the potential threat. The widespread practice of toxic-waste dumping in Africa was addressed at a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held in 1988 at Lome, Togo (Asante-Duah et al.; Yakowitz, 1989). The Italian Green Party reported that a Syrian-registered ship, the Zanoobea, sailed around the world for more than a year looking for a place to discharge its load of chemical wastes. It had to return without success to its place of origin, Marina de Cassara (Vir, 1989). In May 1988, the European Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed upon a list of 44 potentially hazardous wastes that could cross frontiers for disposal in another country. These wastes are likely to require pre-incineration or physicochemical treatment in the generator country, and sea dumping of them is restricted (Asante-Duah et al.; Yakowitz). It has been estimated that a consignment of hazardous wastes crosses OECD frontiers every five minutes 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (Yakowitz, 1989). Although the 44 potentially hazardous wastes were identified, no definition of adverse health effects from exposure was agreed upon (Asante-Duah; Yakowitz).

Because of the rising cost of hazardous waste management in developed countries, dumping in developing countries has become highly attractive (Vir, 1989). Wastes shipped to developing countries could be disposed for as little as $5 to $50 per metric ton with a potential savings of $200 to $2,500 per metric ton (Asante-Duah et al., 1992). Although most of these activities have been silent trades, some have been contracted with governments of the importing countries (Moyers, 1990; Spalding, & Vallette, 1990). For these developing countries, benefits were assessed in economic terms (e.g., real gross domestic product or real gross national product) rather than in terms of quality of life (e.g., quality-adjusted life expectancy) (Lind, Nathwani, & Siddal, 1990a, 1990b). The impacts on the environment, public health and safety, and related costs were neglected.

The 1989 Basel Convention United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) required the following for the regulation of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal (UNEP, 1989):

* notification and consent of recipient countries before any waste shipment;

* notification of transit countries, whether or not these countries are signatories to the convention; and

* written consent from transient and importing countries, prior to export.

In addition, the convention considered participation in the silent trade to be a criminal act. The major issue was the absence of effective international monitoring and control of the hazardous wastes trade. In 1993, Mediterranean countries raised this issue at the eighth meeting of the Barcelona Convention and called for a complete ban on the export and transfer of hazardous wastes to developing countries (Greenpeace, 1995a). In 1994, at the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in Geneva, the following policies were agreed upon (UNEP, 1994):

* ban all transboundary movements of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries;

* phase out by December 31, 1997, all transboundary activities related to recycling or recovery operations from OECD to non-OECD countries;

* require any country that allows transboundary activities of hazardous wastes beyond the phase-out date to inform the Basel Convention Secretariat and provide the types of wastes, quantities, and final destination sites of the recycled/recovered products; and

* have all concerned coordinate to ensure implementation of the recommended activities. …

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