Fresh toxic waste scare has hit Koko town in Warri North Local Government of Delta State, 30 years after 8,000 drums of toxic wastes were dumped in the ancient Itsekiri community by some unscrupulous Italian businessmen, according to the Nation.
The dumping of a yet unknown quantity of industrial wastes from the facilities of an oil multinational is causing panic in the community.
Sources in the town told The Nation that the materials started arriving in the community by vessels several months ago, but the panic was sparked by reports that laboratory tests have confirmed the waste to be toxic.
"Our initial reports have confirmed our fears; the materials are toxic. The tests were carried out in several facilities, including some belonging to a government agency.
"We have all the results ready now and are preparing to take the reports to the Minister of Environment before the end of this week,” a source said.
Despite the concern, more consignments of the alleged harmful materials were still being shipped to the town, last Tuesday evening.
There are fears that many children may have drunk from water sources that are likely to have been contaminated by the waste as a primary school water source is located directly near the site.
“People around the area first noticed the material sometime last year. They are being brought in by barges and trucks picked them up to the site, where they are now burying them,” a source, who asked not to be named because of ongoing investigations, told our reporter.
Nevertheless, an official of Ebenco Services, the company behind the materials, said contrary to the allegation, they are not toxic but sludge, which are being recycled.
The official, simply identified as Ebenezer, told our reporter on telephone on Tuesday night: “This is sludge and it is not toxic; it is wealth to us because we are recycling them.”
Our reporter’s request for independent verification of the recycling claim was turned down because he “needed management’s approval”.
Follow-up calls and text messages to the official on Wednesday afternoon were unanswered.
The materials were brought in from an international oil company, which runs a Joint Venture (JV) with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Mr Amorighoye Mene, Secretary of the Itsekiri Leaders of Thought (ILOT), in a telephone chat with our reporter, differed with Ebenezer, stressing: ” These substances, from test reports, are toxic and dangerous to schools and residential buildings around there.
"It must be stopped and proper remediation must be done to cure the land and environment around there.”
It was gathered that the materials were brought in by several vessels and transported by truck to a populated area of the city by a local contractor.
Expectedly, the incident is causing anxiety in Koko, which attracted global attention in 1987, following the deposition of 3,500 tonnes of some of the world’s most hazardous waste comprising polychlorinated biphenyl sulphate (PCBS) and methyl melamine, among others from Italy.
Although the 1987 waste was returned to Italy in two vessels – Karin B and Deepsea Carrier – after prolonged negotiation between the Federal and Italian governments, Koko has never been the same again.
The incident coincided with the collapse of economic and social activities in the then bustling port city, which is now a ghost of itself.
Ebenco Services seems to be enjoying the support of some prominent indigenes of the community.
Shortly after our reporter contacted the company on Tuesday night, a high-ranking official of the Koko Community Executive Council called our reporter to “appeal for soft handling of the report”.
The official, who apparently did not see anything wrong in the matter, said.
“I do not know why this is coming up now; we have been on this and the man has been doing his business since without any problem. Please lets find a way to help him (contractor).”