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Contributor: Ives Marie Chanel (PANOS)
US waste remains in Haiti

Uncertainty exists in Haiti over the fate of 4,000 metric tons of toxic incinerator ash from the US city of Philadelphia, dumped 11 years ago near the town of Gonaives, 177 kms north of Port-Au-Prince. The waste was to have been shipped back from Haiti in mid-November but Caribbean Dredging Excavation, the company entrusted with collecting it, has withdrawn its equipment from the area.
According to Kenny Bruno, a campaigner with the environmental group Greenpeace, the company cannot haul the ash away because it has nowhere to unload it in the United States. Local opposition or technicalities in three US areas, originally destined to store the waste, have held up the removal operations. One site, in the state of Pennsylvania, is owned by Eastern Environmental Services, the trash hauling company that dumped the ash in Haiti in the first place. The two other sites are in South Carolina and Virginia.
“While it is Eastern Environmental Services’ fault for not securing the availability of the landfill space in Pennsylvania, the city of Philadelphia needs to take responsibility to dispose of the waste in a landfill,” Bruno told IPS. “The poorest country in the hemisphere should not have to pay to clean up waste it never wanted from one of the richest countries in the world.”
An official of the mayor’s office in Gonaives, said the pullout by Caribbean Dredging was motivated by the lack of commitment shown by the municipal authorities in Philadelphia towards the repatriation of the ash. Kevin Feeley, spokesman for the Mayor of Philadelphia, told IPS that he does not know anything about the halting of the clean-up process. Caribbean Dredging could not be reached for comment.
A long campaign by environmental groups had yielded an agreement this year that the waste would be sent back to the United States mid-November (1998) from the disused port of Sedren near Gonaives, where it was dumped 11 years ago by the cargo ship Khian Sea.
A source at the Haitian Collective for the Protection of the Environment and Alternative Development (COHPEDA) said the company had pulled out its equipment, which it sent to the area on October (1998), because it was having a hard time finding a new home for the waste in the United States. A member of the Gonaives municipal council has asked Haiti’s government to take the issue up with the US government so that the cargo of toxic waste can be sent back to the US.
The dumping of the ash in 1988 was the first known case outside of Mexico of US waste being off-loaded in a Third World country and caused an immediate outcry among environmentalists. However, Philadelphia officials insisted that they were not responsible for sending the waste to Haiti.
The costs of the clean-up will be met mainly by Eastern Environmental Services, the New Jersey-based trash hauling company whose director was part of a corporation that originally contracted the freighter Khian Sea to dispose of Philadelphia’s ash. It will cost the company 225,000 dollars. Philadelphia is contributing only 50,000 dollars toward the project, leaving a balance of anywhere between 75,000 dollars and 150,000 dollars to be paid by Haiti’s government. The sum of 60,000 dollars has already been paid to Caribbean Dredging Company for the first phase of the work. According to Bruno, the total cost of the clean-up job will only increase as the operation starts and stops as the destination has yet to be found.
Efforts to hold Eastern accountable were reignited last year when the New York City Waste Commission said the waste-hauling company could only receive a license in the lucrative New York trash market if it helped clean up the ash in Haiti. Eastern’s director, Louis Paolino, was an owner of Joseph Paolino and Sons - one of the companies responsible for the export of the waste to Haiti. Amalgamated Shipping and Coastal Carrier were two other companies involved for shipping the waste, along with a Haitian front company called ‘Les eleveurs de l’Ouest’.
“If a company applying for a license hasn’t paid their taxes or has committed some environmental violation - we will not grant it a license until these matters are taken care of,” Chad Vignola, the deputy commissioner had told IPS. “The issue with Eastern falls under these same conditions.”
Haitian groups also have pushed authorities for compensation for local residents who reportedly suffered health effects from the contamination. Cattle which had died in the town of Lapierre, near the site of the toxic waste, had not been subject to any medical follow-up, COHPEDA said, nor were there any autopsies on the animals to clarify the exact cause of death. Several workers, hired 10 years ago to transport the toxic materials from the dock to its resting site in Lapierre, also have since died. The workers, who had no masks, gloves or boots, reportedly suffered from skin lesions and vision problems.
Although the two owners of Coastal Carrier, the company that owned the ship, were convicted of perjury by federal prosecutors in 1993, no criminal charges were ever brought against the master of the Khian Sea or the city of Philadelphia. U.S. State department officials said they could not become involved because no laws were broken when the waste was dumped. Such absence of dumping regulations inspired countries to negotiate an international treaty called the Basel Convention on the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste that would legally ban waste exports from industrialised countries to developing countries. The United States - which since the incident in Haiti has dumped hazardous waste in South Africa, Bangladesh, and India - has yet to ratify the treaty.
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