Poor Nations Become Garbage Dumps for Rich Ones
LIKE an unwanted orphan, the toxic cargo had wandered from ship to ship and port to port in search of a home. Eleven thousand drums brimming with poisonous resins, pesticides, and other dangerous chemicals had been shunted from Djibouti, Africa, to Venezuela to Syria to Greece. Finally the leaking barrels began taking a toll on the crew of one of the freighters. One man died, and most of the others had skin, kidney, and respiratory illnesses from the toxic brew on board.
Ships, trucks, and trains laden with similar deadly waste are crisscrossing the planet in search of places to call home. Very often the countries already ravaged by poverty, famine, and disease become the dumping grounds for tons of poisons and contaminated trash. Environmentalists fear an ecological disaster is only a matter of time.
Old paints, solvents, tires, batteries, radioactive waste, lead- and PCB-laden slag, may be unappealing to you, but they are attractive to the booming industrial-waste business. Ironically, the more environmentally strict a government is, the more toxic waste its industries will dispose of abroad. “Nearly 20 million tons of poisonous chemicals are shipped annually for disposal to Third World countries by unscrupulous” companies of the industrialized nations, stated the London weekly The Observer. Legal loopholes and loose enforcement mean that thousands of tons of poisonous waste land on African, Asian, and Latin-American soil.
Little wonder these companies find dumping the waste tempting! The cost can be cut tremendously if the right location is used. An example of this is the cruise ship United States, at one time the proud flagship of the American passenger fleet. It was purchased in 1992 to be refurbished for luxury cruising. It probably contained more asbestos than any other ship afloat. Asbestos removal would have cost $100 million in the United States. The ship was towed to Turkey, where it could be done for $2 million. But the Turkish government declined—too dangerous to allow the more than 500,000 square feet [46,000 sq m] of carcinogenic asbestos fiber to be stripped in their country. The ship was finally hauled to another country’s port, where environmental standards are less strict.
Western businesses in developing lands may like to think of themselves as benefactors of the poor. Harvey Alter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce contends that “the waste export and recycling industry raises the standards of living in these countries.” But a review of some of their corporate behavior abroad found that in the majority of cases, instead of raising standards of living, these firms are “more likely to be paying no better than local minimum wages, fouling the environment and selling products that in some cases are dangerous and deceptively marketed.”
Pope John Paul II added his voice of concern at a recent workshop on pollution in the developing world. Said the pontiff: “It is a grave abuse when rich countries profit from the weak economies and legislation of poorer countries by exporting dirty technologies and wastes which degrade the environment and health of the population.”
A classic example is found in southern Africa, home of the world’s largest recycler of mercury wastes. In what was dubbed “one of the continent’s worst pollution scandals,” the toxic wastes killed one worker, another lapsed into a coma, and one third of the work force reportedly suffer some form of mercury poisoning. Governments in certain industrial nations prohibit or greatly restrict the disposal of certain mercury wastes. Ships of corporations in at least one of these countries transport the dangerous cargo to the shores of Africa. An inspection team found 10,000 barrels of mercury wastes from three foreign companies stored at the plant.
Sending materials to developing nations for recycling sounds much better than dumping wastes on them. It can produce valuable by-products, provide jobs, and stimulate the economy. But as the above report from southern Africa shows, disastrous consequences can also result. The reclamation of valuable products from these substances can release deadly chemicals that cause pollution and sickness and sometimes death to the workers. The New Scientist magazine observes: “There is no doubt that recycling is sometimes used as a pretext for dumping.”
The strategy is described by U.S.News & World Report: “False labeling, legal loopholes and lack of expertise make the developing countries easy targets for aggressive waste traders peddling toxic sewage sludge as ‘organic fertilizer’ or outdated pesticides as ‘farm aid.’”
Foreign-owned maquiladoras, or factories, have sprouted in Mexico. A primary objective of the foreign companies is to escape stringent pollution standards and to cash in on the endless supply of low-paid workers. Tens of thousands of Mexicans live in hovels skirted by murky canals with polluted water. “Even the goats won’t drink it,” said one woman. An American Medical Association report called the border area “a virtual cesspool and breeding ground for infectious disease.”
Not Only the Pests Are Dying
“How can a country forbid a poison at home and yet manufacture it and sell it to other countries? Where is the morality of this?” asked Arif Jamal, an agronomist and pesticide specialist from Khartoum. He displayed photographs of barrels stamped: “Not registered for use”—in the industrial land they came from. They were found in a Sudanese wildlife reserve. Nearby were piles of dead animals.
One rich country “annually exports about 500 million pounds [227 million kg] of pesticides that are banned, restricted or not licensed for domestic use,” reports The New York Times. Heptachlor, one cancer-causing cousin of DDT, was banned for use on food crops in 1978. But the chemical firm that invented it continues to manufacture it.
A UN survey discovered wide availability of “very toxic pesticides” in at least 85 developing nations. About one million people suffer acute poisoning each year, and perhaps 20,000 die from the chemicals.
The tobacco industry might be called the epitome of deadly greed. An article in Scientific American entitled “The Global Tobacco Epidemic” states: “The magnitude of tobacco-related diseases and deaths around the world cannot be overstated.” The average age for beginning smokers is sinking ever lower, and the number of women smokers is increasing dramatically. Powerful tobacco companies in league with crafty advertisers are successfully conquering the immense market of less-developed countries. A trail of dead and disease-ravaged bodies litters their road to riches.*
It must be said, however, that not all companies are oblivious to the welfare of developing nations. There are some companies that endeavor to conduct fair and responsible business in developing lands. For instance, one company provides retirement and health benefits and pays its workers three times the required wage. Another company has assumed a strong stance on human rights and has canceled dozens of contracts because of abuses.
In 1989 a UN convention agreement was signed in Basel, Switzerland, to regulate the movement of hazardous waste between nations. It failed to solve the problem, and New Scientist reported on a later meeting of the same nations, held in March 1994:
“In response to the understandable anger of developing nations, the 65 countries party to the Basel Convention took an important step forward when they decided to extend the convention by banning the export of hazardous waste from OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] to non-OECD countries.”
But this latest decision did not seem to sit very well with the developed countries. New Scientist voiced its concern: “So the news that the US, Britain, Germany and Australia are all now trying to undermine the decision is disturbing. Documents leaked from the US government betray its ‘quiet’ diplomatic efforts to ‘modify’ the ban before it agrees to ratify the convention.”
A Day of Reckoning for the Greedy
“Now, you men of affluence, is the time for you to weep and wail because of the miseries in store for you!” warns the Bible at James 5:1. (The New Testament in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips) The reckoning will come at the hand of one who can make things right: “Jehovah is executing acts of righteousness and judicial decisions for all those being defrauded.”—Psalm 103:6.
Those now living in oppressive poverty can take comfort, knowing that soon the words of Psalm 72:12, 13 will be fulfilled: “He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save.”
See Awake! of May 22, 1995, “Killing Millions to Make Millions.”
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Deadly Trash That Refuses to Go Away
“Deadly Nuclear Waste Piles Up With No Clear Solution at Hand.” So read the headline in the science section of The New York Times last March. “The simplest option,” the article said, “is to bury it. But that is now under fire as scientists debate, and Federal agencies study, whether a proposed underground dump in Nevada might eventually blow up in a nuclear explosion fed by waste plutonium.”
Scientists have proposed many plans for ridding the world of surplus plutonium, but cost, controversies, and fears have kept the schemes in limbo. One idea distasteful to many is to bury it at sea. A more imaginative suggestion is to blast it into the sun. Another solution, use reactors to burn it up. But this was dismissed, as it would “take hundreds or thousands of years” to accomplish.
Dr. Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said: “Every technically good solution has political sides that are horrible, and every politically good solution tends to be technically shabby. Nobody has any good overall solutions to this mess, including us.”
To supply electricity for 60 million homes—20 percent of the country’s power—the 107 reactors in the nuclear power plants in the United States produce 2,000 tons of spent fuel each year, and since 1957 the spent fuel has temporarily been stored at the nuclear plants. For decades people have waited in vain for the government to find a way to dispose of it. Nine presidents have been in office, and 18 Congresses have offered plans and set deadlines to secure storage of the radioactive waste in underground facilities, but final disposition of the lethal waste that must be safeguarded for thousands of years is still on hold.
By way of contrast, the trillions of fusion furnaces Jehovah God operates in the far-off stars of the universe pose no threat, and the one he operates in our sun makes life on earth possible.
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Poisonous chemicals befoul drinking and washing water
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Children play amid dangerous or deadly waste