Bush Administration Seen Retreating from Global Hazardous Waste Pact
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Bush Administration Seen Retreating from Global Hazardous
WASHINGTON - The U.S. government is considering walking away from
enhanced commitments to halt the dumping of hazardous waste in developing
countries, causing alarm among environmentalists .
At issue is a 1995 amendment to the Basel Convention on international
shipments of hazardous waste.
A spokesperson for the State Department says that although a decision
has not been made, the US administration is considering ratifying
only the 1989 convention and not the 1995 amendment, known informally
as the 'Basel Ban'. Unlike the treaty, the amendment forbids rich
countries from dumping toxic industrial and other waste in poor countries.
U.S.-based groups, however, say that officials told them last month
Washington would not sign on to the amendment. This has them worried,
because the 1989 Convention sets out to regulate shipments and therefore,
in their view, legitimizes dumping.
''Rather than trying to move in the right direction, the United States
is simply trying to move into a treaty in order to move it in the
wrong direction,'' they say in a letter delivered last week to the
State Department. The groups include the Center for International
Environmental Law, Greenpeace, Earthrights International, and Sierra
Unlike similar environmental protection treaties, the 1989 Basel Convention
on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their
Disposal did not outlaw toxic shipments from industrialized countries
to developing nations.
When 82 countries added the ban by consensus in 1995, environmentalists
claimed this was the beginning of the end of the dumping, which had
been shown to endanger the health and environment of people in a number
of African, Asian and Latin American countries.
In their letter, the groups say the Basel Ban is one of the ''best
opportunities'' to not only halt the toxic flow to the developing
world, but also to reduce the toxicity of waste generated in the rich
countries themselves. Once the relatively cheap option of dumping
is removed, they argue, firms in the industrialized world will have
an incentive to clean up the waste in the first place.
The 15-member European Union (EU) has ratified the amendment, as have
16 other countries. These include China, Ecuador, Norway, Panama,
Sri Lanka, and Trinidad.
The United States has never supported the ban and has sought to have
it rejected or weakened, critics say. Although Al Gore, then US vice
president, said in 1994 that Washington would seek an international
ban on toxic waste exports, pressure from industry has proven more
influential in shaping the US position.
''The United States position on this important moral and environmental
question has been dictated by a very small sector of the business
community,'' says Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network.
Corporate groups opposed to the ban include the US Chamber of Commerce
and the Business Recycling Coalition.
Their case against the ban was laid out in 1998, in a report commissioned
by the business-backed International Council on Metals and Environment
and prepared by the Center for Trade Policy and Law, both based in
These detractors assert that the ban violates international trade
rules, denying waste importing countries the right to determine their
own policies, particularly in cases where the importing country has
the capacity to manage the waste in an environmentally sound manner.
''These countries should be authorized to have access to resources
needed to further develop their recycling abilities and their economies,''
says the 1998 report.
Environmental groups, however, say the trade in waste has had disastrous
In 1988, for example, a cargo ship dumped 4,000 tons of hazardous
incinerator ash from the US city of Philadelphia onto a beach outside
the Haitian port city of Gonaive.
After having been turned away at ports around the world, the waste
that no country wanted ended up in one of the poorest nations in the
world, one ill-equipped to handle the ash.
The ash, which contained toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium,
contaminated the soil in Gonaive, according to the Haitian environmental
group COHPEDA. Some of the ash was later taken to the town of Lapierre,
where cattle subsequently died.
Several workers hired to transport the toxic materials from the dock
also have since died. They had not been provided protective masks,
gloves or boots. Many reportedly suffered skin lesions and eyesight
After much pressure from COHPEDA and US environmentalists, the waste
was shipped back to the United States last year. As of April, it was
still sitting on a barge off the coast of Florida state.
Copyright © 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service