Liberia: EPA Repatriates Four Containers of Hazardous Chemical to Greece, Fines LEC for Pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has with immediate effect ordered the repatriation of four 40-feet containers of hazardous chemicals to Greece, from where they were brought, before entering Liberia.

According to EPA Executive Director Nathaniel Blama, the chemical on the containers were fast tracked by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) while conducting its regular inspection of cargos that are brought into the country. The EPA Director said the chemical when disposed of in any environment has the propensity to cause hazard to human health.

"On January 2, 2020, the anti-smuggling unit of the Liberia Revenue Authority, while inspecting shipments at the Freeport of Monrovia, observed an unusual foul odor oozing from a consignment of polyethylene bags. Suspecting that the bags could contain hazardous chemicals smuggled into Liberia, the anti-smuggling unit immediately notified the EPA to launch an investigation into the content of the shipment, and when the EPA arrived on the scene, it confiscated the four 40 foot containers containing compressed empty polyethylene bags shipped from Greece to Liberia by Republic Waste Services, a Liberian registered company engaged in recycling waste," said Executive Director Blama.

Following an investigation into the nature of the compressed plastic, the EPA dispatched a team of analysts to the scene to gather samples for testing in the Environmental Research and Standards Laboratory for Qualitative Analysis consistent with standard analytical protocols.

Expressing high degree of confidence in the laboratory center of the EPA in Liberia, Mr. Blama said the results of the analyses showed that the empty bags contained traces of "Linear Low density polyethylene granules (LLDPE), low density polyethylene granules (LDPE) and high density polyethylene granules (HDPE).

"The test also confirmed the presence of three hazardous organic compounds; 1- butene, 1- hexane, and 1- Octene, these are all cancer causing chemicals," the EPA Executive Director disclosed at a press conference on January 10.

"As deterrence," the EPA Executive Director continued, "the Agency has ordered with immediate effect, the repatriation of all four containers to the consignor, Stayropoulou Dimitra, in Greece."

In the physical examination process, "there was a list of cautions to would-be waste handlers with one clearly stating that bags are potential sources of environmental contamination and should be handled and discarded according to the law and regulation," Blama added.

Greece, the country from where the chemical plastic originated, has its environmental and ecological law that forbids the recycling of such bags because of the risk posed to the environment and human health. "The consignor, in our view, sought a safe dumping ground under the pretense of selling recyclables; unfortunately, the dumping ground in this case was Liberia," he added.

Dwelling on Liberia's environmental law, Mr. Blama said Section 55 (1) of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia prohibits the illegal importation into Liberia any hazardous waste or substance. Furthermore, Section 55 (5) of the EPML maintains that any person who imports hazardous waste or substances into Liberia shall be responsible for removal of the waste from Liberia and for its safe disposal.

Also articles 6 and 7 of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, of which Liberia and Greece are parties, defines procedure of "Prior informed consent" which requires that: "Before an export of hazardous waste takes place, the authorities of the State of export, in the case of Greece, notifies the authorities of the prospective state of import (in the case of Liberia), providing detailed information on the intended movement of the shipment."

"Accordingly, the movement may only proceed if and when all states concerned have given their written consent," Blama said, adding, "This was never the case with this shipment as the consignments arrived under the description, 'plastic scrap.'"

Blama further said the focal person of the Basel and Bamako Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes has also been mandated to communicate with his Greek counterpart and the Convention headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland to guide the repatriation process.

Expressing gratitude to the LRA for commitment to public duty, Mr. Blama said the EPA remains committed to work with all stakeholders, both public and private, to ensure that Liberia remains a forbidden destination for toxic trade.

In another development, the EPA has fined the Management of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) US$10,000 and EDGAIL INC $2,500 to be paid in 72 hours for failing to inform the EPA of discharging pollutants within the environment.

The LEC, according to the EPA boss, failed to inform the Agency while hiring EDGAIL's services to dispose of transformers that contain a banned substance called poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

PCBs according to the EPA Executive Director were formerly used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment because they have high dielectric strength.

They are also said to be good insulators and are not flammable. However, Blama said PCBs are banned worldwide due to evidence of their harmful impact to the environment and human health.

"PCBs can be released into the environment through spills, leaks from electrical and other equipment, and improper disposal and storage. Once in the environment, PCBs can be transported long distances and they bind strongly to soil and sediment so they tend to be persistent in the environment and in the food chain," Blama said, noting, "Studies of PCBs in humans have found increased rates of cancer in different organs including skin, liver and gall bladder amongst others," Director Blama said.

Backing the EPA's action to levy fines on the two groups, the Director quoted Section 36 (1) of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia, noting that it requires all persons carrying out undertakings which discharge pollutants into the environment to submit on demand, accurate information about the quality and quantity of such effluent or other pollutants, which according to him LEC and EGAIL failed to do by not showing their Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).

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