TOXIC WASTE Dumping Latin America

September 25, 2007

An Italian waste disposal firm Italian waste disposal firm named Jelly Wax deposited more than named Jelly Wax deposited more than
2,000 tons of leaky, corroded barrels 2,000 tons of leaky, corroded barrels near Puerto Cabello, Venezuela in near Puerto Cabello, Venezuela in AprilApril 1987. Four months later, when 1987. Four months later, when area residents began complaining of area residents began complaining of skin sores, the government's environ skin sores, the government's environmental ministry took notice. The bar mental ministry took notice. The barrels turned out to contain a witch's rels turned out to contain a witch's brewbrew of chlorinated solvents, pesticide of chlorinated solvents, pesticide residues and PCBs. residues and PCBs.
An official at the Venezuelan Em An official at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington said "It was bassy in Washington said "It was deposited...without proper permission deposited...without proper permission or knowledge, and was not labelled or knowledge, and was not labelled properly." Although Jelly Wax ar properly." Although Jelly Wax arranged for the waste to be removed, an ranged for the waste to be removed, an
incensed Venezuelan Congress incensed Venezuelan Congress promptly passed legislation prohibit promptly passed legislation prohibiting the importation of hazardous ing the importation of hazardous waste. waste.
The prospect of becoming a dump The prospect of becoming a dumping ground for the United States' toxic ing ground for the United States' toxic waste continues to cause a furor in waste continues to cause a furor in many sectors of Latin America and the many sectors of Latin America and the Caribbean. In May 1987, CARICOM, Caribbean. In May 1987, CARICOM, the 13 member economic association the 13 member economic association of English speaking Caribbean coun of English speaking Caribbean countries, stated its opposition to toxic tries, stated its opposition to toxic waste imports by any Caribbean na waste imports by any Caribbean nation. Thirty nine nations including tion. Thirty nine nations including
Belize, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Belize, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti,
Jamaica, Peru, Saint Lucia and Jamaica, Peru, Saint Lucia and
Venezuela have banned waste im Venezuela have banned waste imports. ports.
But the shortage of landfill sites But the shortage of landfill sites and the existence of local environ and the existence of local environmental regulations which push up the mental regulations which push up the cost of waste disposal in the United cost of waste disposal in the United States continue to encourage industries States continue to encourage industries and communities to look abroad for and communities to look abroad for places to dump their garbage. Between places to dump their garbage. Between
1986 and 1988, more than 3,656,000 1986 and 1988, more than 3,656,000 tons of waste were shipped from de tons of waste were shipped from developed countries to the Third World. veloped countries to the Third World.
"It"It costs them from S250 to S300 costs them from S250 to S300 per ton to dispose of wastes in the per ton to dispose of wastes in the
United States under the new regula United States under the new regula

Diane K. Bartz is a Washington based Diane K. Bartz is a Washington based
journalist specializing in Latin journalist specializing in Latin
American affairs. American affairs.

tions," the Environmental Protection tions," the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Wendy Grieder told Agency's (EPA) Wendy Grieder told the Chicago Tribune. Guinea Bissau the Chicago Tribune. Guinea Bissau has accepted "waste for S40 per ton." has accepted "waste for S40 per ton."
As Philadelphia city official Harry As Philadelphia city official Harry
Perks put it, "I'd slash my wrists if I Perks put it, "I'd slash my wrists if I didn't think there was enough greed in didn't think there was enough greed in
the world to take Philadelphia's the world to take Philadelphia's trash." trash." In 1980, 12 companies notified the In 1980, 12 companies notified the EPA that they intended to export haz EPA that they intended to export hazardousardous waste. By 1987 the number had waste. By 1987 the number had growngrown to 465, with officials estimat to 465, with officials estimating between 550 and 575 for 1988. ing between 550 and 575 for 1988.
This represents only legally exported This represents only legally exported waste,waste, most of which is sent to Canada most of which is sent to Canada andand Mexico. But EPA Inspector Gen Mexico. But EPA Inspector General John Martin told Congress last eral John Martin told Congress last July that firms have shipped hundreds July that firms have shipped hundreds of tons of toxic materials abroad with of tons of toxic materials abroad without notifying U.S. government offi out notifying U.S. government officialscials whose job it is to ensure the coun whose job it is to ensure the countriestries which accept the waste will dis which accept the waste will dispose of it safely. "Our review of the pose of it safely. "Our review of the Agency'sAgency's program to control the ex program to control the exportsports of hazardous waste showed that of hazardous waste showed that thethe program needed major improve program needed major improvements," he said. "It is a program in ments," he said. "It is a program in shambles." shambles."

CheapCheap Waste Sites Waste Sites

InIn one case, two California based one case, two California based firms,firms, Pott Industries and Teixeria Pott Industries and Teixeria FarmsFarms International, formed the International, formed the GuyanaGuyana Resource Company (GRC) in Resource Company (GRC) in partnershippartnership with the government of with the government of GuyanaGuyana to build an industrial waste to build an industrial waste incineratorincinerator to burn over 60,000 tons to burn over 60,000 tons annuallyannually of industrial oil and paint of industrial oil and paint sludge, waste their companies created. sludge, waste their companies created. InIn September 1988, however, the September 1988, however, the GuyaneseGuyanese government reversed its government reversed its decisiondecision and rejected its own applica and rejected its own application to build the plant,tion to build the plant, causing the firm causing the firm to pull out of the country after invest to pull out of the country after investing some S250,000 in the waste ing some S250,000 in the waste scheme. Public opposition to the dis scheme. Public opposition to the disposalposal plan had been fierce. Several plan had been fierce. Several environmentalenvironmental activists began hunger activists began hunger strikes and Guyana's Anglican Bishop strikes and Guyana's Anglican Bishop
Randolph George denounced the plan Randolph George denounced the plan as "a money deal, like drugs." An as "a money deal, like drugs." An angry President Desmond Hoyte de angry President Desmond Hoyte describedscribed the California firms' owners the California firms' owners asas "unscrupulous" in an interview last "unscrupulous" in an interview last fall. He also said his government had fall. He also said his government had "no intention of importing any waste "no intention of importing any waste intointo our country, toxic or otherwise." our country, toxic or otherwise." BelizeBelize also reportedly rejected the Pott/ also reportedly rejected the Pott/ Teixeria plan in June 1988. Teixeria plan in June 1988.
Greenpeace's Jim Vallette says that Greenpeace's Jim Vallette says that PottPott and Teixeria's owners, Donald and Teixeria's owners, Donald Bright and Finn Moller, typify the sort Bright and Finn Moller, typify the sort ofof "small, sleazy characters with ties "small, sleazy characters with ties to Latin Americanto Latin American governments," who governments," who dominate the waste trade. As part of dominate the waste trade. As part of its lobbying efforts, GRC hired Ameri its lobbying efforts, GRC hired Ameri cancan Environmental Audit, another Environmental Audit, another CaliforniaCalifornia firm, to prepare a report it firm, to prepare a report it couldcould use to sell the program to Con use to sell the program to Congress, which was then considering pro gress, which was then considering proposalsposals to curb or ban outright the to curb or ban outright the dumping of waste in Third World dumping of waste in Third World countries. The report described the countries. The report described the GRCGRC plant as a boon for everyone in plant as a boon for everyone involved.volved. But Jonathan Puth, an aide to But Jonathan Puth, an aide to Representative John Conyers (D MI), Representative John Conyers (D MI), was unconvinced. "I'm skeptical of was unconvinced. "I'm skeptical of any plan which seeks to take advan any plan which seeks to take advantage of lax environmental regula tage of lax environmental regulations,"tions," he said. "The basic question is he said. "The basic question is if it's so environmentally sound, why if it's so environmentally sound, why not do it closer to home?" not do it closer to home?"
In the last congressional session, In the last congressional session, Rep. Conyers sponsored legislation Rep. Conyers sponsored legislation banning the export of waste or sludge banning the export of waste or sludge toto any country, except Canada or any country, except Canada or Mexico. That bill is being rewritten to Mexico. That bill is being rewritten to stiffen the proposed regulations and to stiffen the proposed regulations and to include Canada and Mexico. The new include Canada and Mexico. The new legislation would establish a permit legislation would establish a permit process, with a public hearing and a process, with a public hearing and a permitpermit fee which Puth hopes will be fee which Puth hopes will be "prohibitively"prohibitively high." high."
Puth said the new proposal had at Puth said the new proposal had attracted bipartisan support. Even Presi tracted bipartisan support. Even Presidentdent Bush has offered limited support Bush has offered limited support for such legislation. In a March 10 for such legislation. In a March 10 statement, the President said he would statement, the President said he would push for "new legislation that will give push for "new legislation that will give the United States government author the United States government authority to ban all exports of hazardous ity to ban all exports of hazardous waste, except where we have an agree waste, except where we have an agreement with the receiving country pro ment with the receiving country providing for the safe handling and man viding for the safe handling and management of those wastes." agement of those wastes."

Dumping on Haiti Dumping on Haiti

Even if regulations are stiffened, Even if regulations are stiffened, experience has shown that greedy cor experience has shown that greedy corporations will still be able to find porations will still be able to find counterparts in Third World countries counterparts in Third World countries to act as their go betweens. Haiti's bit to act as their go betweens. Haiti's bitter experience with Philadelphia's gar ter experience with Philadelphia's garbage is a case in point. Paolino and bage is a case in point. Paolino and Sons,Sons, a Philadelphia based firm, paid a Philadelphia based firm, paid the Liberian flagged Khian Sea to haul the Liberian flagged Khian Sea to haul away 13,476 tons of toxic incinerator away 13,476 tons of toxic incinerator ash in August 1986. Samples of the ash in August 1986. Samples of the ash showed it contained arsenic, bar ash showed it contained arsenic, barium,ium, cadmium, lead, mercury and two cadmium, lead, mercury and two different types of dioxins between different types of dioxins between 0.184 and 4.7 parts per billion. 0.184 and 4.7 parts per billion.
Captain Konstantinos Samos Captain Konstantinos Samos signed a cargo declaration identifying signed a cargo declaration identifying the load as "non toxic, non hazard the load as "non toxic, non hazardous, non flammable incinerator ash." ous, non flammable incinerator ash."
In March 1987, the ship's owner, In March 1987, the ship's owner,
Amalgamated Shipping, tried to cut a Amalgamated Shipping, tried to cut a deal with Honduras through Hondu deal with Honduras through Hondu ran promoter Edgardo Pacall. Pacall ran promoter Edgardo Pacall. Pacall told Tegucigalpa the ash was "neither told Tegucigalpa the ash was "neither toxic nor dangerous, and was an ex toxic nor dangerous, and was an excellent material for landfills in low cellent material for landfills in low lying zones and swampy areas." Hon lying zones and swampy areas." Hon duras refused Amalgamated's offer to duras refused Amalgamated's offer to sell the ash for S22,000. sell the ash for S22,000.
The Bahamas, Bermuda, the Do The Bahamas, Bermuda, the Do minican Republic and Guinea Bissau minican Republic and Guinea Bissau also rejected the load. In October also rejected the load. In October
1987, after 14 months on the high seas, 1987, after 14 months on the high seas,
Felix and Antonio Paul, the brothers Felix and Antonio Paul, the brothers ofof late indicted drug trafficker Col. late indicted drug trafficker Col.

Jean Claude Paul, convinced the Hai Jean Claude Paul, convinced the Hai tian Commerce Department to allow tian Commerce Department to allow them to import the toxic ash, which them to import the toxic ash, which they said was fertilizer. The Khian Sea they said was fertilizer. The Khian Sea dumped 3,000 of the 13,000 tons of dumped 3,000 of the 13,000 tons of ash on a peninsula near the city of ash on a peninsula near the city of
Gonaives in late January 1988. Port Gonaives in late January 1988. Port au Prince soon caught on and de au Prince soon caught on and demanded the waste be reloaded onto the manded the waste be reloaded onto the ship and threatened to prosecute those ship and threatened to prosecute those responsible for the dumping. responsible for the dumping.
According to Greenpeace's Jim According to Greenpeace's Jim
Vallette, the ash is still there. "Some Vallette, the ash is still there. "Some has been repacked in barrels but most has been repacked in barrels but most is still in a pile," he said. "Some is is still in a pile," he said. "Some is uncovered, some is covered." The pile uncovered, some is covered." The pile may contain 210,000 pounds of toxic may contain 210,000 pounds of toxic heavy metals, including lead, cad heavy metals, including lead, cadmium,mium, mercury and arsenic. Much of mercury and arsenic. Much of thethe waste is near the sea and some is waste is near the sea and some is beingbeing lapped into the ocean. Although lapped into the ocean. Although the peninsula is lightly populated, there the peninsula is lightly populated, there is a small village only a few hundred is a small village only a few hundred yards downwind. yards downwind.
Despite Haiti's 1988 political up Despite Haiti's 1988 political upheavals,heavals, environmental groups in the environmental groups in the countrycountry are persisting in their efforts are persisting in their efforts to get the waste removed. A represen to get the waste removed. A representative of the Friends of Nature Federa tative of the Friends of Nature Federation met with Minister of Public Works tion met with Minister of Public Works Franck PaultreFranck Paultre on December 12 to dis on December 12 to discuss the waste while two grass roots cuss the waste while two grass roots organizations, the Christian Workers organizations, the Christian Workers

Youth and a second church group, Youth and a second church group, organized anti dumping protests. organized anti dumping protests.
TheThe independent Radio Soleil's independent Radio Soleil's Gonaives correspondent, Jean Bouch Gonaives correspondent, Jean Bouch ereau Joseph, visited the dump site in ereau Joseph, visited the dump site in early December. "We saw many dead early December. "We saw many dead goats and found many people in the goats and found many people in the area who had respiratory problems and area who had respiratory problems and numerous large lesions," he reported. numerous large lesions," he reported.

Giant Garbage Dump Giant Garbage Dump

TheThe nationalistic tone of Peruvian nationalistic tone of Peruvian PresidentPresident Alan Garcia's administration Alan Garcia's administration hashas not prevented that country from not prevented that country from agreeing to accept U.S. toxic waste. agreeing to accept U.S. toxic waste.
The Florida based firm, American The Florida based firm, American
Security International (ASI), offered Security International (ASI), offered the city of Pisco, some 100 miles south the city of Pisco, some 100 miles south of Lima, S400 million for the rights to of Lima, S400 million for the rights to buildbuild a toxic processing plant near the a toxic processing plant near the
Paracas National Park. Felipe Benav Paracas National Park. Felipe Benav ides, president of the Peruvian Na ides, president of the Peruvian Nationaltional Conservation Federation, de Conservation Federation, denouncednounced the scheme as a plan to turn the scheme as a plan to turn the park into a "giant garbage dump" the park into a "giant garbage dump" andand warned it would endanger local warned it would endanger local plants and wildlife. plants and wildlife.
ASI, which accepts radioactive and ASI, which accepts radioactive and chemical waste from U.S. and Euro chemical waste from U.S. and Euro pean companies, signed a similar pean companies, signed a similar agreement with the northern Peruvian agreement with the northern Peruvian city of Paita. But public opposition tQ city of Paita. But public opposition to

the deal forced the city to back out. the deal forced the city to back out. BenavidesBenavides said Paraguay had agreed said Paraguay had agreed to accept waste from ASI, while Ar to accept waste from ASI, while Ar gentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama gentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela rejected similar deals. and Venezuela rejected similar deals.
Honduras is considering allowing Honduras is considering allowing International Asphalt and Petroleum, a International Asphalt and Petroleum, a
U.S. firm, to build an incinerator near U.S. firm, to build an incinerator near the rainforest at Gracias a Dios. Ac the rainforest at Gracias a Dios. According to Pat Costner, a Greenpeace cording to Pat Costner, a Greenpeace researcher who has studied the plan, researcher who has studied the plan, the facility would be used to burn 1.8 the facility would be used to burn 1.8 million pounds of waste annually, pos million pounds of waste annually, posing "significant risks to the public and ing "significant risks to the public and the environment." the environment." In December 1988, a subsidiary of In December 1988, a subsidiary of Navarette International, N.C.T.B. Inc. Navarette International, N.C.T.B. Inc. of New Jersey, filed an application of New Jersey, filed an application with the New York Department of with the New York Department of
Environmental Conservation to build Environmental Conservation to build a station to transfer up to 1,000 cubic a station to transfer up to 1,000 cubic yards of asbestos daily to Guatemala, yards of asbestos daily to Guatemala, saying the asbestos would be used to saying the asbestos would be used to manufacture brake linings. The sub manufacture brake linings. The subsidiary also produced a letter from the sidiary also produced a letter from the
Guatemalan government approving the Guatemalan government approving the plan. plan.
Neil Gorfinkel of the White Lung Neil Gorfinkel of the White Lung
Association, an asbestos watchdog Association, an asbestos watchdog organization, points out that the organization, points out that the
amount of asbestos slated for shipping amount of asbestos slated for shipping far exceeds the amount Guatemala far exceeds the amount Guatemala could use to produce brake linings. He could use to produce brake linings. He believes the asbestos comes from believes the asbestos comes from clean upclean up sites and will be dumped. sites and will be dumped.

Sham Recycling Sham Recycling

Such abuses should put Mexico and Such abuses should put Mexico and
Canada on edge because their long, Canada on edge because their long, porousporous borders with the United States borders with the United States make detecting illegal waste exports make detecting illegal waste exports extremelyextremely difficult. The Mexican gov difficult. The Mexican governmenternment has banned importing waste has banned importing waste forfor disposal, but allows it for recy disposal, but allows it for recycling. Greenpeace suspects it may be cling. Greenpeace suspects it may be "sham recycling." "sham recycling."
"We know that tens of thousands "We know that tens of thousands of tons of steel furnace dust, which has of tons of steel furnace dust, which has extremely high levels of heavy metals, extremely high levels of heavy metals, have been shipped to Mexico," says have been shipped to Mexico," says
Jim Vallette. "There may be some Jim Vallette. "There may be some reclamationreclamation of lead, but you're left of lead, but you're left with a highly toxic residue which with a highly toxic residue which should really be shipped back to the should really be shipped back to the UnitedUnited States. Customs officials don't States. Customs officials don't pay attention." pay attention."
The EPA's Wendy Grieder dis The EPA's Wendy Grieder disagrees,agrees, cautioning, "We have very cautioning, "We have very littlelittle evidence of the illegal export of evidence of the illegal export of largelarge quantities of waste. None of that quantities of waste. None of that informationinformation has made itself public." has made itself public." But,But, she added, "I'm not saying it's she added, "I'm not saying it's not happening." not happening." Following the Jelly Wax debacleFollowing the Jelly Wax debacle in in 1987, Venezuela decided to spearhead 1987, Venezuela decided to spearhead the fight for a globalthe fight for a global treaty banning all treaty banning all internationalinternational traffic in toxic trash. On traffic in toxic trash. On
March 22 of this year, following 18 March 22 of this year, following 18 monthsmonths of negotiations, 105 members of negotiations, 105 members of the Nairobi based U.N. Environ of the Nairobi based U.N. Environmentalmental Program signed an accord Program signed an accord whichwhich establishes some controls over establishes some controls over toxictoxic waste exports. Early on, Third waste exports. Early on, Third World countries appeared determined World countries appeared determined to draft an agreementto draft an agreement which would ban which would ban allall hazardous waste exports. But de hazardous waste exports. But developedveloped countries, including the countries, including the United States, argued that a ban would United States, argued that a ban would stifle free trade.stifle free trade. Not only did they suc Not only did they successfully limit the document to simple cessfully limit the document to simple regulationregulation of the waste trade but, as of the waste trade but, as the signing date drew near, the devel the signing date drew near, the developed countries worked to weaken even oped countries worked to weaken even those controls. The final draft was a those controls. The final draft was a disappointment to many who argued disappointment to many who argued that regulation implicitly legitimizes a that regulation implicitly legitimizes a practice that should be ended. Wash practice that should be ended. Wash ingtonington endorsed the final agreement endorsed the final agreement but was one of only 11 countries which but was one of only 11 countries which did not sign it. did not sign it.
The United States sees Latin Amer The United States sees Latin Amer ica and the Caribbean as a cheap ica and the Caribbean as a cheap dumping ground for its wastes. As dumping ground for its wastes. As tighter environmental regulations and tighter environmental regulations and growing volume drive up the price of growing volume drive up the price of legal disposal methods, "the export of legal disposal methods, "the export of irresponsibility," as Rep. Conyers puts irresponsibility," as Rep. Conyers puts it, is bound to increase. it, is bound to increase.

Tags: toxic waste, poison, environmentalism, development, exploitation


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