20. U.S. Alone in Blocking Export Ban of Toxic Waste to Third World

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Source: COUNTERPUNCH Date: March 15, 1996 Title: “The Poison Trade” Authors: Ken Silverstein and Alexander Cockburn

SSU Censored Researchers: Anne Stalder, Lisa Zwirner

Last September, representatives from 84 countries gathered in Geneva for the Basel Convention. Their purpose was to pass an international ban which would put an end to the exporting of toxic wastes into poorer countries by the twenty-four wealthy nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These rich nations generate 98 percent of the 400 million tons of toxic waste produced each year, most of which comes from European and American corporations that eagerly ship their hazardous by-products to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The United States is the only OECD country that refuses to support such a ban.

In 1994, President Clinton supported a ban on hazardous waste exports, but at last year’s Basel convention his Administration sent representatives to lobby against the ban. Rafe Pomerance, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State felt that such a ban, “would discourage recycling.” U.S. industries protested the ban, advancing the argument that Third World countries should be given an ‘opportunity’ to import, process, and repackage hazardous waste produced by First World corporations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged the U.S. Government to meet with non-OPEC countries to convince them that it would be in their economies’ best interest to support free trade in toxins.

The problem with relying on other countries to dispose of or recycle these toxins is that they often do not have adequate facilities to do so in a safe manner. This has already led to negative environmental and health problems. Recently Greenpeace produced a video, “Slow-Motion Bhopal: Toxic Waste Exports to India.” Among many disturbing practices the Greenpeace video documents are car batteries and zinc ash which are sent to the Bharat Zinc plant in Bhopal, India where they are melted down and remolded into metal containers and other products that are sold to Indian consumers. Greenpeace also showed dangerous working conditions for the employees, many of whom are children. They wade barefoot without masks or gloves through a toxic dump-yard, inhaling lead at 100 times the level tolerated in the West. Tests of soil near the site disclosed severe lead contamination and poisons leaching into surrounding surface and ground water. Larry Summers of the Treasury Department wrote in a memo that it was quite sensible to locate toxic operations in the Third World, because a lower life expectancy in those countries kills off workers before cancers caused by toxins have time to kick in.