Lawyers representing the British-based oil firm Trafigura have taken their first steps toward suing BBC’s current affairs television program, BBC Newsnight, for “libelous statements” in their May 13 investigative report, Dirty tricks and toxic waste in Ivory Coast .

The company’s law firm has yet to specify what statements in the report they consider libelous. However, the company has itself denied claims in the report that they’re responsible for more than 80,000 people in Abidjan, the capital city of Ivory Coast, becoming sick in August 2006, after being exposed to chemicals that were dumped by the company. Trafigura maintains that its tanker was carrying nothing more than “oil slops.”

This is certainly true. However, it would appear that beneath those “slops” was a dangerous concoction of hazardous materials.

In the weeks leading up to the tragedy, which some have termed the “Ivorian Chernobyl,” the company’s tanker was in Amsterdam to safely and legally dispose of its waste. As it was being unloaded, port authorities encountered an alarming smell coming from the waste,  that compelled them to take samples for testing.

According to Newsnight, who obtained copies of the tests, the tanker was also carrying “tons of phenols which can cause death by contact, tons of hydrogen sulphide, lethal if inhaled in high concentrations, and vast quantities of corrosive caustic soda and mercaptans, which [according to a leading toxicologist] are ‘the most odorous compounds ever produced’.”

Once authorities realized this, they halted the waste from being unloaded any further, and told the ship’s captain it was going to cost $300,000 or more to dispose of the material,as reported by the New York Times. Soon after, the waste was loaded back up and the tanker made its way to Abidjan, where a local company was hired to dispose of the waste.

A 2006 report by SPIEGEL Magazine says the company’s waste was found in at least 12 sites throughout the city: all of them “near vegetable fields, fisheries and water reservoirs.”

Whether or not the waste in the tanker was “oil slops”, the people of Abidjan won’t soon forget what happened that August—especially those women and children who were disfigured after being exposed to some kind of caustic chemical. Nor will it be forgotten by the Ivorian government, who’s previous administration was forced to resign because they failed to respond to the tragedy as it folded.

If justice prevails, then at least we’ll get to the truth. A massive lawsuit set to begin this October, involving Trafigura and 30,000 of the Abidjan victims  It may very well be the biggest lawsuit in UK history.

John runs the blog Intercontinental Cry, www.intercontinentalcry.org, which covers news about Indigenous and human rights issues around the world.

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