Soenke Zehle on Fri, 8 Feb 2002 10:35:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Toxic WTC Scrap Ends Up In India

Dumping Potentially Hazardous World Trade Center Steel Debris is Danger to
People and Environment

People's Union for Civil Liberties
January 29, 2002 

Environmentalists and trade unions are up in arms over more than 30,000 tons
of possibly contaminated scrap that was shipped from the wreckage at the
World Trade Center to India. Below is a protest letter from a citizen's
group in Chennai, the port city where the scrap was sent, to local and
national officials. For more information see:

Trading in Disaster: World Trade Center Scrap lands in India


The Hon'ble Minister,
Ministry of Environment and Forests,
Government of India, New Delhi.

The Hon'ble Minister,
Department of Environment,
Government of Tamil Nadu,
Fort St. George, Chennai.

Ms. Sheela Rani Chunkath,
IAS, Chairperson,
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board,
Guindy, Chennai.

Chairman, Chennai Port Trust, Chennai.

Commissioner, Corporation of Chennai, Rippon Building, Chennai.


We are shocked to know that for the last one month more than 30,000 tonnes
of potentially hazardous steel and other waste scrap from the site of the
September 11th World Trade Center (WTC) disaster in New York has been
unloaded in Chennai and stored in a site in Manali. What shocks us is that
the scrap has reportedly been unloaded without proper certification as to
its safety and non-hazardous character.

We are informed that the first consignment of the scrap reportedly arrived
in early January onboard the Maltese vessel Brozna. Two other ships, Shen
Quan Hai and Pindos, have subsequently arrived with a cargo of scrap.
Reports say that the latter two vessels are said to be carrying WTC scrap.
Pindos is currently berthed in Chennai Port and is scheduled to sail on 7

Although steel scrap is legal trade, the manner in which the World Trade
Center scrap was created raises concerns of toxic contamination. This is not
ordinary scrap. Everything in the World Trade Center, including
mercury-containing tubelights, carcinogenic asbestos insulation, PVC
articles, and computers was incinerated after 91,000 liters of jet fuel
ignited in the buildings. TV reports of the clearance of the wreckage showed
the US workers dressed in full-body protection and gas masks. If the US
workers required such protection, don't Indian workers also require similar
gear? Given the almost total lack of similar safety standards in Indian
ports, the immediate impact will be felt by the ill equipped workers
downloading the scrap using their hands and feet.

The matter of concern, however, is not just the issue of protective gear;
the danger is much larger than that.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is already moving to characterize the
WTC site as a Superfund (high levels of toxic pollutants) site because of
the elevated levels of poisonous substances found there. There are no safe
levels of exposure to cancer-causing substances like asbestos, PCBs, and
dioxins, or to toxic metals like cadmium, mercury and lead. Once ingested or
inhaled, these substances resist degradation or excretion and tend to build
up to dangerous levels in the body. Unless there is clearcut evidence that
the steel scrap and waste is totally free of carcinogenic and toxic
contamination, and in particular unless there are analytical reports that
prove the absence of asbestos dust/fibres, polychlorinated biphenyls,
dioxins/furans, cadmium, mercury and other toxins in the waste, further off
loading of the waste should be immediately halted and the removed waste
returned to the US.

We are deeply concerned at reports that the US Government has "overlooked"
this critical possibility and has allowed the export of potentially
contaminated scrap without adopting the required precautions in terms of
testing the scrap for contaminants prior to export, and informing the Indian
authorities accordingly. What causes still greater concern is the attitude
of the Indian authorities, notably the Customs, Port and the Ministry of
Environment officials. Though they were informed about the danger by several
trade unions like CITU, HMS and AITUC and various environmental
organisations, the Government bodies continue to slumber and remain

PUCL demands to know whether the Government of India has ascertained whether
the US Government issued a Certificate of Safety as per the BASEL
CONVENTION, or at the least certified that the Convention does not apply,
before the government permitted the offloading of the steel and other waste
of the September 11th WTC building wreckage. If the US government had not
issued such a certificate, PUCL demands to know why M/s Sabari Exim Pvt.
Ltd, of Manali, Chennai was permitted to unload the wastes from the three
ships. PUCL also demands that further off loading of waste be immediately
stopped and the Pindos not permitted to leave Chennai port until the matter
is thoroughly investigated.

The entire episode again exposes the hypocrisy, dishonesty, and lack of
standards of the first world countries when disposing their hazardous wastes
in poorer nations. If the potential for contamination is high enough that
they cannot store the waste themselves, how ethical is it to claim the fig
leaf of open markets as a cover for exporting it? A poison is a poison,
regardless of the wealth of the person it sickens or kills.

However, such dumping is also a black mark on the Indian authorities. This
is not the first time official agencies have connived with those dumping
wastes and ignored the possibilities of deadly contamination. Under the
Environment Protection Act, it is the duty of the customs and port
authorities to ensure that all waste entering India has obtained the
requisite clearances and certificates. We have learned that this has not
taken place in this case. It is time that these officials are held liable
for not enforcing safety standards and failing to discharge their basic duty
to protect the citizens of India.

As such, we also demand that an immediate investigation be launched into the
entire affair and the public informed of the investigation's findings. If
the investigations reveal that the waste is hazardous and that officials
colluded in permitting it to be offloaded, then all the concerned officials
in various government agencies must be forthwith prosecuted for permitting
hazardous wastes to be dumped into India.

Finally, we have been informed that some of the WTC scrap off loaded in
Kandla port has already been removed and distributed without any
certification as to its safety. It is imperative that this be stopped.
Orders must also be given to seal the entire site where the wastes have been
stored until toxicity and pollution control tests are completed and a final
decision taken about the waste. Until then, further unloading must be

We enclose a chart outlining the possible contamination of the WTC waste. We
anticipate immediate action on the issue before it becomes a major
environmental hazard.

Yours sincerely,

V. Suresh
Secretary, PUCL-TN/Pondicherry

For more information, please contact:

People's Union for Civil Liberties
Sudha Ramalingam, Member-National Council
TN & Pondy 32
Kachaleeswarar Agraharam Street, Off.
Armenian Street
Chennai - 600 001
Tel: 5233639
Tele-fax: 5245412

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