JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Hundreds of people protested violently yesterday in the commercial capital of Ivory Coast against the open-air dumping of toxic waste, beating a Cabinet minister and burning down the home of a port director implicated in the dumping.
The health minister said that seven people, including four children, have died in the West African country's main city, Abidjan, after breathing fumes from the wastes, which were unloaded at 14 open sites, including the city's main dump.
There are fears that groundwater could become contaminated as well.
The government of national unity, set up to lead the country to new elections, was forced to resign last week, leaving a skeleton administration. Several state officials have been suspended and seven people were arrested, including the heads of the local firm, Compagnie Tommy, which dumped the sludge.
The petroleum waste contained hydrogen sulphide and hydrocarbons. The chemicals can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Without adequate ventilation, inhalation can cause fainting, respiratory failure and death.
Greenpeace questioned yesterday whether dumping of the waste, which was shipped by Dutch-based commodity trader Trafigura Beheer BV, on a Panamanian-registered ship, Probo Koala, was a breach of a 1989 agreement banning industrialized countries from shipping toxic waste to poor countries.
Trafigura Beheer BV has denied any wrongdoing, saying that it handed the waste to the Ivorian firm Compagnie Tommy to be disposed of properly.