By Mail Foreign Service
One of the world’s biggest oil trading companies was yesterday fined €1million (£830,000) for illegally exporting toxic waste alleged to have killed 16 people and made 100,000 ill.
Trafigura, a multinational firm with an annual turnover of £47 billion and offices in London, put self-interest over people’s health and the environment, a court heard.
The Dutch court fined the company for exporting the 400 tonnes of hazardous black sludge called ‘slops’ to Ivory Coast and for concealing the dangerous nature of the waste when it travelled through Amsterdam.
It also convicted a Trafigura employee for his role in the scandal and the Ukrainian captain of the Probo Koala ship that carried the waste.
In Ivory Coast, where almost 30,000 victims and their families received £975 compensation cheques in March, the ruling was greeted as a moral victory because Trafigura has denied any wrongdoing.
The slops – a by-product of removing impurities from crude oil – were contaminated with foul-smelling sulphur and toxic hydrogen sulphide and gave off damaging fumes after they were spread in drains and rubbish tips in the Ivorian capital Abidjan in August 2006.
Thousands claimed to have been poisoned, but Trafigura insists the waste from the Probo Koala could not have caused serious illness.
In 2007 the company paid £104million to the government of Ivory Coast for the environmental damage caused, one of the largest settlements of its kind.
It has also paid £32million in an out-of-court settlement after about 1,000 victims sued the company in a class action brought in the London courts.
The UN’s top expert on toxic waste, Okechukwu Ibeanu, claimed in 2009 ‘it is clear that there is a direct and indirect connection’ between the waste and 100,000 illnesses and 16 deaths that Ivory Coast attributed to the pollution.
Initial reports claimed that exposure to the chemicals released from the slops was linked to deaths, miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects, loss of visual acuity or other serious and chronic injuries.
But under the British settlement, lawyers agreed the waste could only have caused minor ailments.
After an investigation by 20 independent experts in fields ranging from shipping to chemistry, toxicology, tropical medicine, veterinary science and psychiatry, the settlement said the slops could only have caused a range of short-term, low-level, flu-like symptoms and anxiety.
The case prompted complex legal proceedings and at one stage Trafigura failed in an attempt to impose a so-called superinjunction banning the reporting of proceedings in Parliament.