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Africa: Tracking Toxic Pollution
February 26, 2014 (140226)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The damages produced by modern economies, termed "externalities" by
economists, most often do not figure in the market signals shaping
corporate profits and therefore corporate decision-making. The
result, both in advanced economies or around the world, includes
not only the massive threat to our common future through global
warming, but also extraordinary levels of toxic pollution
disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable. Of the top ten
toxic threats around the world identified in a new report, three
are in Africa: the Agbogbloshie Dumpsite for e-waste in Ghana, the
entire Niger Delta region in Nigeria, and the now-closed but still
deadly lead mining site in Kabwe, Zambia.
While governments have the primary responsibility to act, their
failures are leaving much of the work in tracking this toxic
pollution and campaigning for real solutions to non-governmental
organizations and activists. The information they are uncovering,
however incomplete, shows clearly that the issues are international
and that the solutions must also be international.
Much of the e-waste being processed in Ghana and elsewhere in
Africa is imported from Europe. The exploitation of the Niger Delta
and the consistent failure to address massive toxic pollution is the responsibility
both of foreign oil companies and of the Nigerian government. And
the cleanup of the legacy of 90 years of lead mining in Zambia is
being addressed both by the Zambian government and by international
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from two recent reports
on some of the worst cases of toxic pollution in Africa: (1) a
report from Amnesty International on the flaws of oil spills
investigations in the Niger Delta by oil companies and the Nigerian
government, and (2) information on three African cases, including
the Niger Delta, from a report on areas of "top ten toxic threats"
in the world.
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the environment and climate
change, visit http://www.africafocus.org/envexp.php
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, including the Niger
Delta, see http://www.africafocus.org/country/nigeria.php
Help Connect US and African Environmental Activists - Contribute
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Bad Information: Oil spill investigations in the Niger Delta
Amnesty International November 2013
Index: AFR 44/028/2013
[Excerpts only. For full version, including footnotes and graphics,
visit http://www.amnesty.org / direct URL:
Hundreds of oil spills occur in Nigeria every year, causing
significant harm to the environment, destroying local livelihoods
and placing human health at serious risk. These spills are caused
by corrosion, poor maintenance of oil infrastructure, equipment
failure, sabotage and theft of oil. For the last decade oil
companies in Nigeria - in particular Shell - have defended the
scale of pollution by claiming that the vast majority of oil spills
are caused by sabotage and theft of oil.
There is no legitimate basis for this claim. It relies on the
outcome of an oil spill investigation process - commonly known as
the Joint Investigation Visit or JIV process - in which the
companies themselves are the primary investigators. This report
exposes several serious deficiencies and abuses within the JIV
process that render it wholly unreliable as a basis for making
claims about the cause of oil spills, the volume of oil spilt or
the area impacted.
The report is based on an examination of the JIV process and -
critically - of how data are recorded during the process. It draws
on expert analysis obtained from a US pipeline specialist who
reviewed JIV investigation documents and data provided by oil
companies and regulators to researchers in the course of
The report presents evidence not only of serious and systemic flaws
in the oil spill investigation process, but also specific examples
of instances where the cause of an oil spill appears to have been
wrongly attributed to sabotage. The evidence includes a secretly
filmed video of an oil spill investigation. In addition, the report
exposes serious problems with how the volume of oil spilt is
assessed and recorded; it is likely that the volume of oil recorded
as spilt in many cases is incorrect.
The human rights impacts are serious - both the cause of a spill
and the volume spilt affect the compensation a community receives.
If the spill is recorded as caused by sabotage or theft, the
affected community gets no compensation, regardless of the damage
done to their farms and fisheries. This is based on a provision in
Nigeria's oil legislation which Amnesty International and the
Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development believe needs
to be amended. Oil companies should be held responsible for a spill
that is due to sabotage or theft if they have failed to take
sufficient measures to prevent tampering with their infrastructure.
The majority of the report's findings relate to the Shell Petroleum
Development Company, which is the major onshore operator in the
Niger Delta. The report acknowledges improvements in Shell's JIV
process since 2011, when the company began to publish JIV reports
on its website. Other companies have yet to do this.
However, serious flaws remain within Shell's post-2011 oil spill
investigation process. These include weaknesses in the underlying
evidence used to attribute spills to sabotage and the fact that the
JIV reports are filled out by Shell after the joint investigation
process - not as part of the joint investigation process. There is,
consequently, a lack of transparency and oversight in terms of what
is recorded on the new JIV reports.
Despite its frequent references to sabotage and theft, Shell has
failed to take effective measures to protect its infrastructure
from tampering. Vulnerable infrastructure has been left exposed to
vandalism and theft. In addition, evidence has recently emerged to
suggest that Shell's own contractors may be involved in oil theft.
The report also makes a number of findings in relation to the
Nigerian Agip Oil Company, a subsidiary of the Italian company,
ENI. Although Agip operates over a smaller area than Shell, there
have been almost twice as many spills reported from its operations
in recent years. In 2012, there were a staggering 474 spills from
Agip's operations, compared with 207 from Shell. Agip attributes
the vast majority of spills to sabotage but provides absolutely no
information to support this allegation. Furthermore, such a high
number of spills, from whatever cause, is indefensible for a
Sabotage and theft of oil are serious problems in the Niger Delta.
However, international oil companies are overstating the case in an
effort to deflect attention away from the many oil spills that are
due to corrosion and equipment failure. Moreover, securing oil
infrastructure against such acts is - to a substantial extent - the
responsibility of the operator.
While many of the issues covered in this report relate to actions
and failures of oil companies, it is clear that the government of
Nigeria is failing in its duty to control the oil industry and
prevent environmental damage and human rights abuses. Regulatory
oversight of the oil industry in the Niger Delta is extremely weak.
The report confirms what others, including UN agencies, have found
in relation to a lack of capacity and conflicts of interest
affecting the main regulators. It is clear that regulatory
certification of companies' oil spill processes is not credible.
The report also notes that almost everyone involved in oil spill
investigations is male. In general the oil companies and Nigerian
oil regulators only deal with chiefs and other elite male members
of spill-affected communities, reinforcing gender stereotypes and
economic disadvantage in the Niger Delta.
While oil spills are a significant problem in themselves, the
impact on human rights is exacerbated by the failure to clean up
and remediate the affected areas properly and swiftly. The final
chapter of the report looks specifically at Shell and the company's
claims about clean up of oil spills, following a damning report by
the United Nations Environment Programme in 2011. Shell has
repeatedly claimed that it cleans up all oil spills, regardless of
the cause. The report questions Shell's statements and data on
clean up and remediation. It concludes that Shell's public claims
do not stand up to scrutiny and are inconsistent with existing
The report concludes that the JIV process lacks credibility and
cannot be relied upon to provide either accurate information on
individual spills or as a basis for wider claims about the
proportion of oil spilt due to sabotage, theft, corrosion or any
other cause. Based on the available evidence corrosion and
operational failures remain a significant cause of oil spills, and
more oil has been spilt due to operational failures in the past six
years than Shell has claimed.
This report also concludes that data from Shell operations in
Nigeria - whether on the cause of oil spills or the nature of clean
up - cannot be the basis for any meaningful assessment of the
company's impacts because of the serious flaws in how the data is
compiled. The report therefore strongly questions how media and
investors can rely on Shell's claims about the company's
environmental impacts in Nigeria.
Finally, the report makes recommendations to further improve JIVs
and to address past injustices that have been the result of
inadequacies in the JIV process. This includes taking all feasible
steps to ensure oil spill investigations can be independently
verified, ensuring that women are not excluded from the process,
and ensuring that all members of the affected communities have full
access to all relevant information in an accessible format.
Oil companies have challenged the findings contained in this report
and their responses are reflected in the text.
1.2 Human Rights Impact of Oil Pollution
In 2001, in relation to a case on the impact of the oil industry in
the Ogoniland area of the Niger Delta, the African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights stated: "pollution and environmental
degradation to a level humanly unacceptable has made living in
Ogoni land a nightmare." In a landmark decision, the African
Commission found Nigeria to be in violation of a number of rights
guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights,
and stated that:
"[D]espite its obligation to protect persons against interferences
in the enjoyment of their rights, the Government of Nigeria
facilitated the destruction of the Ogoniland. Contrary to its
Charter obligations and despite such internationally established
principles, the Nigerian Government has given the green light to
private actors, and the oil Companies in particular, to
devastatingly affect the well-being of the Ogonis." - African
Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
The decision of the African Commission clearly recognized the link
between environmental destruction and human rights, and the
responsibility of the government to protect people from such damage
by non-state actors such as companies. The Commission called on the
government, amongst other things, to protect the environment,
health and livelihood of the people of Ogoniland; to ensure
adequate compensation to victims of the human rights violations;
and to undertake a comprehensive clean-up of lands and rivers
damaged by oil. The government has not implemented any of these
The main human rights impacts documented by Amnesty International
and CEHRD26 are:
- Violations of the right to an adequate standard of living,
including the right to food - as a consequence of the impact of
oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and
fisheries, which are the main sources of food for many people in
the Niger Delta.
- Violations of the right to gain a living through work - also as a
consequence of widespread damage to agriculture and fisheries,
because these are also the main sources of livelihood for many
people in the Niger Delta.
- Violations of the right to water - which occur when oil spills
pollute water used for drinking and other domestic purposes.
- Violations of the right to health - which arise from failure to
secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy
environment, and failure to enforce laws to protect the environment
and prevent pollution.
- Failure to ensure access to effective remedy for people whose
human rights have been violated.
These violations and abuses affect people differently; the
different impacts on women and men, children and the elderly, and
people with particular vulnerabilities, are rarely identified or
discussed. Research for this report found that women are frequently
excluded from all aspects of post-oil spill processes, and this can
leave women in particularly difficult situations with respect to
damage done to their livelihoods.
The abuses and violations are, primarily, the result of the
operations of the oil companies and the almost complete failure of
the Nigerian government to regulate the oil industry and protect
the rights of the people of the Niger Delta.
In July 2009 the Nigerian NGO, Socio-Economic Rights and
Accountability Project (SERAP), filed a case against the Federal
Government of Nigeria and six oil companies over alleged violations
of human rights associated with oil pollution in the Niger Delta.
The complaint alleged "Violations of the right to an adequate
standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to
health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy
environment, and to economic and social development - as a
consequence of: the impact of oil-related pollution and
environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries."
While the Court declined jurisdiction over the oil companies, the
case proceeded against the government. On 17 December 2012, in a
groundbreaking judgment, the Court found Nigeria responsible for
the abuses of the oil companies and made clear that the government
must hold the companies to account.
The court made several orders - firstly, that the government must
take effective measures within the shortest time to address the
issues of oil pollution and devastation in the Niger Delta;
secondly, that the government must take immediate steps to bring
perpetrators of the violations in Niger Delta to account; thirdly,
that the government must take effective measures to prevent further
occurrence of the violations of the rights. The government of
Nigeria has failed, to date, to act on any of the court's orders.
The World's Worst 2013: The Top Ten Toxic Threats
Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland
[Excerpts only. For full report see
Introduction and Context
This 2013 report is the eighth in an annual series of reports
released by Green Cross Switzerland and Blacksmith Institute. ...
This Top Ten Toxic Threats report builds upon previous reports to
highlight the progress of many contaminated sites and an increased
understanding of the far-reaching effects of toxic pollution. The
2012 report utilized disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) to
reveal that over 125 million people are at risk from toxic
pollution in 49 low- and middle-income countries. That number has
since been revised up to 200 million. The strikingly high number of
people at risk established toxic pollution as a public health
threat equivalent to more highly publicized public health problems
such as malaria and tuberculosis. ...
Toxic Pollution and Human Health
The health effects of toxic pollution vary greatly in both the
range and severity of disease and disability with which they are
associated. The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the
World Bank, estimates that 23% of deaths in the developing world
are attributable to environmental factors, including pollution, and
that environmental risk factors contribute to more than 80% of
regularly reported diseases. ... a recent study of more than 3,000
toxic sites, funded by the World Bank, European Commission, and
Asian Development Bank, shows that as many as 200 million people
globally may be affected by toxic chemicals.
Collectively, the 2013 list is a snapshot of some of the worst
pollution problems in the world. The health of more than 200
million people is at risk daily from pollution issues like those
found at the sites listed here. The goal of this report is
illuminate this often overlooked public health threat rather than
to be comprehensive.
Agbogbloshie Dumpsite, Ghana
Agbogbloshie, in Accra, Ghana, is the second largest e-waste
processing area in West Africa. E-waste, or electronic waste, is a
broad term referring to a range of electronics, including
refrigerators, microwaves, and televisions. Because of the
heterogeneous composition of these materials, recycling them safely
is complex and can require a high level of skill.
Ghana annually imports around 215,000 tons of secondhand consumer
electronics from abroad, primarily from Western Europe, and
generates another 129,000 tons of e-waste every year. Assuming
growth continues in a linear manner, Ghana's e-waste imports will
double by 2020. Approximately half of these imports can be
immediately utilized, or reconditioned and sold. The remainder of
the material is recycled, and valuable parts are salvaged.
A range of recovery activities takes place in Agbogbloshie, each
presenting unique occupational and ecological risks. The primary
activity of concern from a public health perspective is the burning
of sheathed cables to recover the copper material inside. Styrofoam
packaging is utilized as a fuel to burn the material in open areas.
Cables can contain a range of heavy metals, including lead. To some
extent, these metals can migrate through particulate in the smoke,
while significant amounts are also left behind on area soils.
Agbogbloshie is a vibrant informal settlement with considerable
overlap between industrial, commercial, and residential zones.
Heavy metals released in the burning process easily migrate into
homes, food markets and other public areas. Samples taken around
the perimeter of Agbogbloshie, for instance, found a presence of
lead levels as high as 18,125 ppm in soil. The USEPA standard for
lead in soil is 400 ppm. Another set of samples taken from five
workers on the site found aluminum, copper, iron, and lead levels
above ACGIH TLV guidelines. For instance, it was found that one
volunteer had aluminum exposure levels of 17 mg/m3 compared with
the ACGIH TLV guideline of 1.0 mg/m3.
A conservative estimate of the population at risk might fall in the
area of 40,000 people. However, a more in-depth assessment would be
required to better capture the risk, which might affect as many as
250,000 people. Since 2008, Blacksmith Institute and its partner,
Green Advocacy Ghana (GreenAd), have been piloting technologies to
aid recyclers in replacing the burning process. Hand wire-stripping
tools introduced in 2010 were met with a small-degree of success
but burning remained the preferred method. Currently, project
partners are working to mechanize the wire-stripping process
through the creation of work stations outfitted with a variety of
wire-stripping machines. These machines eliminate air pollution and
centralize recycling to reduce wide-spread communal exposures.
Comprehensive health and occupational safety trainings, implemented
since 2008, have built the capacity of workers and community
members for reducing the risk of heavy metal exposure.
Kabwe, the second largest city in Zambia, is located about 150
kilometers north of the nation's capital, Lusaka. A 2006 health
study discovered that, on average, children's blood lead levels in
Kabwe exceeded the recommended levels by five to ten times. This
was the result of contamination from lead mining in the area, which
is situated around the Copperbelt. In 1902, rich deposits of lead
were discovered, leading mining and smelting operations to run
almost continuously for over 90 years without the government
adequately addressing the potential dangers of lead. Smelting was
largely unregulated throughout the 20th century in Kabwe, and these
smelters released heavy metals in the form of dust particles, which
settled on the ground in the surrounding areas. While the mine is
currently closed, artisanal activity at tailings piles continues.
The current CDC recommended level of lead in children's blood is 5
ug/dL. Levels in excess of 120 ug/dL can potentially be fatal. In
some neighborhoods in Kabwe, blood concentrations of 200 ug/dL or
more were recorded in children, and records show average blood
levels of children tested ranged between 50 and 100 ug/dL. Children
who play in the soil and young men who artisanally mine the area
are most at risk.
The Zambian government has made significant progress in dealing
with the issue, particularly through a USD 26 million remediation
program funded by World Bank and Nordic Development Fund from 2003
to 2011. Despite these efforts, the site still poses an acute
health risk that will require further work.
Niger River Delta, Nigeria
The Niger River Delta is a densely populated region that extends
over 70,000 km2 and makes up nearly 8% of Nigeria's land mass. It
is heavily polluted by oil and hydrocarbons, as it has been the
site of major petroleum operations since the late 1950s. Between
1976 and 2001 there were nearly 7,000 incidents involving oil
spills where most of the oil was never recovered. As of 2012, some
2 million barrels (320,000 m3) of oil were being extracted from the
delta every day. Groundwater and soil have been heavily polluted in
the process, which has also devastated aquatic and agricultural
An average of 240,000 barrels of crude oil are spilled in the Niger
delta every year due to mechanical failure, third party activity,
and many unknown causes. The spills have not only contaminated the
surface and ground water of the delta but also the ambient air and
locally grown crops with hydrocarbons, including known carcinogens
like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). A 2011 report from
UNEP concluded that soil and groundwater pollution levels exceeded
national standards at two-thirds of reviewed locations in and
around the Niger delta. These spills have affected local population
health in a number of ways. One article published in the Nigerian
Medical Journal in 2013 estimated that the widespread pollution
could lead to a 60% reduction in household food security and a 24%
increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition. This is in
addition to the fact that the crude oil is likely hemotoxic and can
cause infertility and cancer.
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