Toxic Chemicals Dumped in Mombasa Cause Health Hazard

Hundreds of people living near the Mombasa port have been treated for illnesses after containers of leaking chemicals were dumped nearby.
Mombasa - KCCL container toxic leak
The two containers which belonged to Uganda’s Kasese Cobalt Company Limited (KCCL) were dumped in Kipevu about a month ago after a driver noticed a leak. KCCL admitted ownership of the chemical cargo but denied responsibility for the leak. “That is our cargo. Until it is in Kasese we are not responsible for what happens to it along the way,” said Mr Gupta Pradeep, the Finance and Administration Manager of Kasese Cobalt Company Limited. The toxic cargo had been shipped from Mumbai, India.

According to local sources up to 1500 residents of Mombasa’s Kalahari slum were worst affected when forty tons of chemicals containing 37% nitric acid began to leak causing breathing difficulties, stomach upsets, chest pains and two miscarriages. The toxic cargo seeped into the ground and the latrine system affecting residents. According to the Kenya’s Daily Nation one woman was seriously scalded when she slipped and fell in the sludge. Another resident miscarried after using the latrines.

Ms Kibibi, whose house was near the chemical spill, alleges she miscarried as a result. “It was a three-month-old pregnancy. I had gone to the toilet, while there I was hit by a strong fume,” she told BBC. “I quickly gathered myself up and ran towards my room but couldnt manage – I fell down and started bleeding immediately.”

It is believed that many other people have been affected by the leak but have not yet sought medical attention.

The chemicals also corroded the metal sheets used to build houses and melted anything made of plastic. Animals were also affected with residents reporting that some animals had died.

KCCL’s Gupta Pradeep blamed the Ugandan shipping company Southern Enterprise. KCCL general manager Bob Jennings told the BBC that the leak was reported by Southern Enterprise at least one month ago but Kenya’s National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) says the problem was reported less than two weeks ago after the containers had already been dumped in the residential area.

NEMA claim that the area has been cleaned up now but the BBC’s Joseph Odhiambo visited the area and reported that yellow fumes could still be seen leaking from the containers and the ground was covered in black sludge.

Mombasa Municipal Council chief health officer Josephant Maithya told the BBC that the area is still not safe. While Mr Nassir Rashid, the director of environment at the Mombasa Municipal Council said samples of the chemicals have been sent to the government chemist for identification. Rashid says the chemicals are extremely toxic and so far more than 1,500 villagers have been treated for various illnesses caused by the chemicals.

The containers were on their way to Uganda when they were dumped. Mombasa Municipal Council has ordered KCCL to appear in court and residents are now demanding compensation.

Kasese Cobalt Company Limited is involved with extracting and refining cobalt near the town of Kasese in Uganda. It is 75% owned by Blue Earth Refineries Inc, a Canadian company which was registered as a corporate entity in the Virgin Islands in 2004. The remaining 25% stake in KCCL is held by the Ugandan government.

Blue Earth sprang from MFC Bancorp which is an Austrian financial services group owned by MFC Merchant Bank S.A., a fully licensed Swiss bank in Herisau, Switzerland.

Blue Earth’s refinery, located at Kasese, Uganda, restarted operations in May, 2004, and has operated continuously since that time. During the 2004 calendar year, it produced 962,000 pounds of 99.8 percent pure cobalt, generating gross revenues of US$15.2 million. In 2005, the company will have a full year of operations, with sales revenue anticipated at approximately US$22 million, generating estimated surplus cash of approximately US$8.5 million. These projections are based on an estimated average market price of US$17.50 per pound for the balance of 2005, with cash flow increasing by US$1.5 million (or approximately US$0.10 per issued share) for every US$1.00 per pound increase in the estimated average market price of cobalt.

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