Albion Monitor /News

U.S. Toxic Waste Dumping Haunts Haiti

by Ives Marie Chanel

No medical follow-up on humans, cattle that have died nearby
(IPS) PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Ten years ago, a U.S. cargo boat dumped a lethal cargo of four million tons of toxic waste at a port 177 kilometers north of here. Today that incident has become the focal point of a controversy involving the Ministry of the Environment, ecology groups, and human rights organizations.

In a recent statement, the Haitian Collective for the Defense of the Environment and Alternative Development (COHPEDA) alleged that people and cattle living near a site built to accommodate the toxic waste in the town of Lapierre have since died.

The ecology group underlined the heightened risk that this waste tank presented to life, and also alleged there had been no medical follow-up in the area, nor autopsies on the animals to pinpoint the exact cause of their death.

In a note published October 21, Artibonite 2004, a local private association, cited the death of more than 300 head of cattle and the possible contamination of the water supply. The organization demanded that Haitian President Rene Preval order the waste be excavated and sent back to the United States.

"My cousin had these skin lesions and vision problems. The workers there had no masks, no gloves, no boots provided"
Alex Beauchamps, executive secretary of COHPEDA, indicated that he has not been able to verify the numbers but that given the level of toxicity, the waste should be excavated and a complaint should be filed with the American Department of Justice against Paolino and Son, Amalgamated Shipping Corporation, and Coastal Carrier Corporation, the companies responsible for the carriage of materials to Haiti.

The Catholic Peace and Justice Commission, based in the Artibonite area, has held back comment on what it calls "the present rumors not yet verified regarding animal deaths in the toxic waste-site zone" but has called for the Haitian authorities and the American embassy to take initiatives to return the waste to Philadelphia immediately.

The Ministry of the Environment is not able at this point to provide information on the livestock casualties.

"I went back to the site on Oct. 16 to check out the situation but the breeders at the local authorities (CASEC) told me nothing about these deaths. People were shocked when I told them what has been reported. All I know is that the goats are dying of starvation during this dry spell. But we're going to dig deeper into this starting at the end of the week," Renaud Voltaire, Director of the Ministry of the Environment for the Northeast told IPS.

Officials from the Ministry, however, had details of another environmental hazard in Haiti, a toxic substance called dieldrine.

During the winter, thousands of ducks fly in from the United States to the Artibonite region and especially to the area around the Colimi Ponds and Red Earth (Terre Rouge). Local farmers who chased these ducks off their rice crops, have lately coated the fields with dieldrine to kill off the ducks.

In turn the poisoned ducks have been sold as food, with grave consequences for consumers.

"For us, the problem is that our national sovereignty is being violated as is the dignity of our people. If you asked someone today in our area the name of the Minister of the Environment, he'd have no idea," said Daniel Roussiere, the coordinator of the regional division of the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission.

Roussiere deplores the fact that no charges were ever filed against the local operators who permitted the U.S. freighter, The Khian Sea, to unload its cargo at an unused mining company dock in 1987. Officials at the Environment Ministry have now issued a warning for people not to enter the toxic waste area while steps are being taken to figure out how to protect the outlying areas.

One Environment Ministry source told of the death of workers hired by the Ministry of Public Works in 1988 to transport the toxic materials from the dock to its final resting site, a concrete tank in the hills above Lapierre, 2.5 kilometers north of the port city of Gonaives. They allegedly suffered from undiagnosed skin lesions.

Herby Dalencourt, 22, a reporter for Radio Provinciale, told of his cousin, Smith Joseph, who worked for the Ministry of Public Works in the area and died two years later.

"My cousin had these skin lesions and vision problems. The workers there had no masks, no gloves, no boots provided," he related. Haitian environmental experts have indicated that some of the toxic substances may have leaked through a second layer of insulation, which was added due to compromises in the concrete layer.

A team of investigators from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited Haiti from Oct. 11-13 and took several samples of oysters, sea salts, and other substances to analyze back home.

Technicians from the Haitian Ministry of the Environment have indicated that "there are suspicions that the wastes unloaded at Gonaives contain dioxin, an extremely carcinogenic substance."

Gore indicted he was concerned about the problem, but so far action has been limited to supporting controls on potentially harmful cargos
A report by Angela Stetanson, from the environmental organization Greenpeace, published in January, 1995, estimates that the 3 to 4 million metric tons of industrial wastes unloaded at Gonaives by the Khian Sea contain heavy metals such as lead, and toxic substances such as cadmium and benzene which can harm aquatic life and contaminate the human food chain.

Minister of the Environment Yves Andre Winwight asked U.S. Vice President Albert Gore on October 15, 1995 to inform his federal government of these matters in order to facilitate criminal charges to be brought against the captain of the boat, and to force the city of Philadelphia to take the necessary steps to remove its garbage.

"We are hoping to get this waste hauled away in order to establish a precedent and to discourage others who'd like to think of Haiti as their garbage can," Winwight told IPS.

The Haitian Environment Minister acknowledges that he has limited authority, though. The failure of Haiti to ratify the International Convention concluded at Basel, Switzerland in 1989, which prohibits trans-border dumping of dangerous materials and seeks to banish them altogether, seriously ties his hands in instituting legal proceedings against the Khian Sea captain and the city of Philadelphia.

The captain of the ship reportedly was imprisoned in the United Stated in 1993 for dumping 10,000 metric tons of waste into the Indian Ocean.

The Haitian government has so far not sought to legally pursue the local Gonaives officials and their intermediaries who, at the time, were authorized to permit the dumping of loads of cargo which could be used as fertilizer.

U.S. Vice President Al Gore indicted he was concerned about the problem during his October, 1995 visit to Haiti, but so far action from Gore has been limited to support of greater controls on potentially harmful cargos bound for Haiti.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor October 27, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page