Tanzania orders destruction of toxic transformers

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[DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania] The Tanzanian parliament has ordered the removal of electrical equipment containing highly toxic polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs) from Dar es Salaam International Airport.

The order reflects growing concern about the alleged ‘dumping’ of harmful or outdated products by industrialised countries in Tanzania.

The equipment, consisting of 12 transformers, was installed in the airport in 1984 by the French company, Bouygues, that built the airport.

Last month the Tanzanian parliament ordered Bouygues to remove the transformers on the grounds that PCBs have been banned since the 1970s because of their harmful effects on human health and the environment. PCBs affect the respiratory system, and may cause tuberculosis and cancer. They also affect germination in plants and can damage plant growth.

According to the parliament, as the disposal of transformers is expensive and requires a high level of technology, developed countries have found it cheaper to dump them in Africa.

The Director General of the Tanzania Airports Authority (TAA), Prosper Tesha, said last week that Bouygues had agreed to remove the transformers to the Netherlands for destruction. “The project has started and we expect that by the end of this year the transformers will all have been removed,” he said.

Tesha said that the TAA suspected that many airport staff were suffering poor health after working near the transformers. Furthermore, some members of parliament have alleged that Bouygues knew that the transformers were prohibited at the time that they installed them, and are considering filing for compensation.

The controversy over the transformers is one of many allegations that developed countries are jeopardising both the natural environment and human health in Africa by dumping outdated machinery and equipment.

According to the Director General of the Tanzanian Pharmacy Board, Magreth Singonda-Ndomondo, for example, Tanzania returned two containers containing outdated drugs to Germany last year.

There is also growing concern that outdated computers, cell phones and automobiles are being dumped on the African market. For example, in a bid to stop the United Arab Emirates from sending its old — and more polluting — cars to be sold in Tanzania, the Tanzanian parliament has prohibited the import of cars used for more that 10 years from that country, and has set up an inspection unit to monitor car imports.

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