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In 1987 and 1988, the small port town of Koko,
Nigeria, had a secret. A complex collection of peo-
ple and events had allowed Italian hazardous waste
to be surreptitiously dumped in Koko between the
fall of 1987 and the spring of 1988. Exposing the
scheme in March 1988, the Italian newspaper
reported that hazardous waste originating in
Italy may have been dumped illegally in Nigeria,
an activity environmental groups in Italy had helped
The information about the dump
reached Nigeria when “some patriotic [Nigerian]
who were studying in Italy contacted the
Nigerian embassy in Rome, which then sent two let-
ters to the Nigerian External Affairs ministry. The
Nigerian press stated that the eight students had
gotten in touch with the media after the ministry
had not replied to their letters.
(Lagos), a prominent Nigerian newspaper, reported
on June 5, 1988, that more than one thousand tons
of Italian toxic waste, including carcinogenic poly-
chlorobiphenyls (PCBs) had been dumped in Koko.
The discovery of the Koko dump site set off a furi-
ous chain of events in Nigeria, including a Nigerian
government-led investigation, threats of the death
penalty, the seizure of Italian ships, and diplomatic
accusations and maneuverings.
The Koko incident was but one of many in a bur-
geoning trade in hazardous waste. Between 1986
and 1988, over three million tons of wastes were
shipped from industrialized to less developed
reported in 1989 that six
hundred thousand tons of toxic wastes were offi-
cially exported from Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries
annually, with about half of this coming from West-
ern Europe, and speculated that the true quantity
was twice this amount.
A 1988 report by the
United States Environmental Protection Agency
mating that 2.2 million tons of toxic garbage
crossed borders annually.
to the USEPA for permits to export hazardous waste
jumped from twelve in 1980 to 522 in the first six
months of 1988.
The increase in toxic trade in the 1980s resulted
from rising disposal costs in northern countries. Ear-
lier scandals like Love Canal, New York, and Times
Beach, Missouri, in the 1970s forced more stringent
U.S. laws regarding waste disposal. Western Euro-
pean countries were under similar pressures. A “net-
work of toxic waste brokers”
sprang up to move
wastes from the north to the south. Three methods
of disposal became common: leaving “lost” cargo
on a small dock in a southern country, to be discov-
ered months later when ownership would be impos-
sible to trace; finding a poor individual in a southern
HAZARDOUS WASTE TRADE, NORTH AND SOUTH: