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The Toxic Truth

The people of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire are suffering. On August 20, 2006 the people of Abidjan woke up to a foul-smell: a company called Trafigura had dumped toxic waste off their boat, the Probo Kola, around numerous places in their city. More than 100,000 people of Abidjan have been affected, but it’s likely that the number affected is higher today than recorded in 2006, and that every day this number is increasing. The symptoms from this foul-smell are nausea, headaches, breathing difficulties, stinging eyes and burning skin. Trafigura made the toxic waste on board the Probo Koala. They refused to pay for proper treatment and disposal that was offered by the Netherlands after realizing that the toxic waste was dangerous. In addition, Trafigura knew the waste was supposed to be properly disposed of in a city dump. Still, it claims the dumping and its aftermath were not its fault; and it lied and gave false, deceiving information about the waste to the state authorities and waste processing companies in several countries.

Trafigura was given protection from trial in Côte d’Ivoire after being convicted in a Dutch court of illegally distributing the toxic waste from the Netherlands. Several governments admitted to the tragedy but failed to uphold the law of sea and international human rights and environmental law.

The Netherlands continues to fail to take sufficient measures to prevent such untoward corporate crimes in the future, to redress the suffering of the victims, or to hold the offenders to account. It failed to act lawfully and provide for the violation of the right to health of the people of Abidjan.

Student Researcher: Isaac Torres, Indian River State College

Faculty Researcher: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College


A joint report by Amnesty International and Greenpeace Netherlands, The Toxic Truth, September 25, 2012 Toxic-Truth/


Trafigura’s toxic waste dumping has been going on for six years, and still the government hasn’t done anything about it. This blatant lack of caring for the lives of others is central to the ethical transgression in this case. A care-based approach to ethics gives priority to the humane treatment that we are all owed as humans while emphasizing the relationship dimension of human interaction. An ethics of care focuses on our responsibility for the well being of others as well as ourselves. It is keenly aware of the inequalities of power that are present in virtually all relationships. It places a premium on security from danger and harm. The Trafigura case presents an ethical breach in caring because hundreds of thousands of innocent humans, including children, have been and still are knowingly poisoned and killed.

The people who are suffering from the air contamination are suffering everyday and their health is gradually worsening. Imagine yourself waking up each day to the air you breath being lethally toxic. It is harmful to your lungs and can affect other areas of the body part. Also, people aren’t the only ones being affected. The ocean’s creatures and other various ecosystems are being affected by this tragic event now going on.

 The Toxic Truth  The Toxic Truth

Under international human rights laws, states have a duty to protect people from exposure to dangerous substances. It is imperative that states act to ensure that substances that are dangerous to human health, or which would contaminate food or water, are properly regulated and managed.

The Netherlands has ignored the timely complaints of the people of Abidjan. They can say whatever they want but it does not follow up. These people have been given no protection from the toxins in the air. Exposure to hazardous wastes can impact on a range of human rights including the rights to food, water, health, and work. This can be due to direct contact with the hazardous material or when soil, water, air or the food chain is contaminated. Exposure to hazardous wastes can lead to a violation of the right to human life.

Trafigura knew the waste was supposed to be disposed of in a city dump. And it gave false or misleading information about the waste to the state authorities and waste processing companies in several countries. Therefore, Trafigura knew what they were and are doing by dumping the toxic waste into the ocean and harming others.

Accordingly, Trafigura is responsible for all the death, destruction, and sickness it has brought on the people of Abidjan. It is fully responsible for the dumping of toxic waste around eight places over night around Africa. There has to be a stop to this lethal practice.

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