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Letter to French Government Authorities Regarding Formosa Plastics Waste


October 11, 1999

Ms. Marie-Claire Lhenry
Chargée de Mission
Ministère de l'Aménagement du Territoire et de l'Environment

Mr. Alain Strebelle
Ministère de l'Aménagement du Territoire et de l'Environment

Mr. Philippe Vesseron
Le directeur de la prévention des pollutions et des risques
délégué aux risques majeurs
Ministère de l'Aménagement du Territoire et de l'Environment


Dear Ms. Marie Claire Lhenry, Mr. Strebelle and Mr. Philippe Vesseron:

I hope this letter finds you well. The Basel Action Network (BAN) has throughout 1999 maintained a very active interest in the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) toxic waste that was dumped in Cambodia. After being involved in dialogues about the waste in Cambodia, California, Nevada, Idaho and now in France we have become quite familiar with the situation.

BAN and affiliate member organization Centre National D'information Indépendante Sur Les Déchets (CNIID) opposes the transboundary movement of this waste. Among many concerns, we find it absolutely inappropriate and perverse that a claim is being made by your government that Beijing can be the competent authority with respect to this waste that is located on Taiwanese soil. This is a twisting of the original intent and purpose of the provisions of the Basel Convention.

Additionally, we remind your government that this waste was first dumped in Cambodia, then attempts were made to export it to California, Nevada, Idaho and Texas. The receipt of the waste in each of these destinations was objected to either by politicians, trade unions, communities or government officials. As a result, the waste in question is now headed down its "path of least resistance to France." And now, surprisingly the French government seems willing to accept this environmentally unsound transboundary movement, that so many other have rejected.

We find this particularly remarkable when France has long argued against a "free trade" in hazardous waste within the European Union and indeed French Environment Minister now strongly argues for implementation of the Precautionary Principle with respect to the importation of British beef and American beef contaminated with artificial hormones. As we shall see, the waste in question is of unknown characterization. Thus, not only does France have numerous reasons to oppose its "free trade" from within the Basel Convention and by the EU Waste Shipment Regulation itself, but also be invoking the Precautionary Principle. We elaborate on some of these points below.

The import of the Taiwanese toxic waste into France violates the spirit of the Basel Convention which asserts that waste should only be traded in certain circumstances, for example when a country lacks the technical capacity to deal with it. Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) is one of the largest transnational companies in the world. There is no question that they have adequate resources to stabilize the waste in situ and store it on their own corporate property. In this way, Taiwan and FPG, a company that heretofore has acted in a criminal like manner with respect to its dumping on Cambodia will begin to take responsibility for the wastes they produce rather than trying to externalize their problems via export to other communities. It is time for wealthy countries such as Taiwan and companies such as FPG to begin to move towards self-sufficiency and source reduction in waste management.

Further, there remains great doubt as to precisely what this waste really contains. It is absolutely inappropriate to take the word of FPG in this matter as they have already demonstrated by their illegal dumping in Cambodia that they are capable of irresponsible and criminal-like behavior in order to dispose of the waste in question. We have been privy to many hundreds of analysis documents and still the waste in question remains a mystery. All we know for sure are the following:

-- that there are high levels of elemental mercury in it (up to 10,000 ppm)

-- that it contains at least three separate hazardous waste streams (chlor-alkali sludges, crushed barrels and Cambodian soil, and carbon pellets saturated with mercury)

-- that it contains PCBs, pthalates and other organics in relatively low levels but it has not been tested for a full range of priority organic pollutants, or for organic mercury compounds

-- that the waste in question now includes material picked up in Cambodia including many thousands of crushed used uncleaned drums. It is not known what these drums contained prior to their use however they are quite laden with oily residues and could have contained biocides such as pesticides etc.

-- that some of the waste sat at the FPG factory for at least 20 years and whether other waste streams were mixed with it is unknown.

It was due largely to the fact that the waste could not be properly characterized, that it was first rejected from the United States. Likewise due to the unknown characteristics of the waste, disposal facilities can not yet be confident that their stabilization process would work given the unusual and unknown characterization of the waste. Thus it is impossible to assert environmentally sound management of this waste at this time as is required under the Basel Convention (Article 4, para 8).

Furthermore, it is certain that the export of this waste absent a bilateral agreement (as per Article 11 of the Basel Convention) with Taiwan is inappropriate. As France does not recognize Taiwan as a legitimate national government, it is impossible for such a bilateral agreement to be concluded. We strongly object to France's perverse contention that they can deal with Beijing as the competent authority of the waste. This is an outrageous and clear violation of the intent of the Basel Convention. It also indicates a stretching of the law, solely for the benefit of the Tredi Company, a company owned by the state of France.

Beijing has no ability to monitor, assess, or achieve any form of competence with environmental situations in Taiwan. The whole basis of a competent authority within the Basel Convention is that such authority indeed possesses the actual ability to achieve competence in order to judge whether the export is taking place in an environmentally sound manner. Competence is gained in real terms not in nominal, distant, legalistic ones. According to the Basel Convention's Article 6, it is the state of export that must notify. Such notification must include the declarations and specifications in Annex V A. Included in that Annex is information such as the designation and physical description of the waste, process by which the waste was generated etc. This information is not known generally, and cannot be known by anyone working in Beijing.

Finally, we strongly believe that French disposal companies should not be allowed to increase their market by searching the world for the possibility of importing toxic wastes. The goal that is embodied in the Basel Convention is that there should not be a "free trade" in toxic waste and that indeed transboundary movements of hazardous wastes should be reduced to a minimum. It is not appropriate then, that the mountains of waste awaiting disposal in Asia should find their way for many years to come, to French communities where they will inevitably contribute to further pollution of French soil. Such export harms the health and environment of the French people and furthermore provides little incentive for Asian countries to make strides toward hazardous waste minimization and environmentally sound management.

Given the above information we would like to know from you the following:

1) How can France be confident that it knows what is precisely in the waste in question?

2) Why isn't France invoking the Precautionary Principle with respect to the import of this toxic waste that has not been characterized?

3) How can France be confident that the Tredi disposal process can manage the waste in question?

4) How can France justify utilizing officials in Beijing as the competent authority and notifiers, when in fact Beijing has not ability to monitor or assess anything about the export side of the waste in question in Taiwan? Is France asserting that Beijing holds authority over the peoples of Taiwan and the government of Taipei?

5) How can France justify the waste shipment in terms of Basel's obligations for countries to achieve self-sufficiency in waste management?

6) How can French disposal sites and the communities around them be assured that the facilities which they have permitted will not become global waste targets and end up on the receiving end of many more shipments and tonnes of waste than they ever bargained for?

7) Will there be a public participatory decision making process with respect to these shipments?

8) Does France intend to warn its local port authorities and trade unions of the massive volume of toxic waste that might enter the ports of France and have they made the necessary efforts to warn communities along the proposed transport route.

We urge your government to halt the proposed import of this waste for the many reasons above. We would also appreciate an answer to these questions and a continuing, urgent dialogue on the subject at hand. If there is a public participation process surrounding these shipments we would ask that this letter as well as your response to it become part of the record in that process.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Puckett
Basel Action Network (BAN) Secretariat
1827 39th Ave. E.
Seattle, WA. 98112 USA
Tel/Fax: 1 (206) 720-6426

Gaëlle Ecobichon
CNIID / Centre national d'information indépendante sur les déchets
51 rue du Fbg St-Antoine
75011 Paris
Tél. 01 55 78 28 60
Fax. 01 55 78 28 61


Ms. Dominique Voynet
Environment Minister

Mr. Per Bakken
Acting Coordinator of the Basel Secretariat

Mr Brice Friboulet
CGT trade Union in Le havre
Syndicat CGT du port autonome du Havre

Mr. Maldacenea
CGT trade Union in Marseille
Syndicat CGT du port autonome de Marseille


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