Basel firms condemned over toxic waste

Greenpeace activists with the three drums of waste Keystone

Greenpeace Switzerland has attacked three Basel-based companies for failing to clean up toxic waste dumped just over the border in France.

This content was published on March 1, 2005 - 09:25

The organisation says drums of chemical waste, which have sat untreated for 50 years, are a threat to the environment and communities in both France and Switzerland.

On Monday Greenpeace campaigners attempted to draw attention to the situation by transporting three drums of toxic waste to the headquarters of pharmaceutical giant Novartis in Basel.

But the drums were seized at the border by Swiss customs, because activists lacked the required paperwork.

According to Greenpeace, the waste will now be handed over to Basel City authorities for disposal.

"We are not happy with this situation, because the Basel chemical industry has not taken responsibility to solve the issue of this waste," Greenpeace campaigner Christoph Wiedmer told swissinfo.

"The authorities in Basel City have taken the right position – they have taken responsibility for the waste."

Greenpeace said it had taken action after reportedly discovering thousands of tons of "highly toxic" waste lying in the open at three sites in France, including one just 150 metres from the Swiss-French border.

Toxic waste

The sites were used by Basel’s chemical industry in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the organisation.

The environmental group said it had written to three Basel-based companies – Novartis, Syngenta and Ciba Specialty Chemicals – asking them to secure and clean up the waste dumps.

Both Novartis and Syngenta have their origins in the chemical industry. Novartis concentrates now on pharmaceuticals, while Syngenta is a world-leading agribusiness.

Greenpeace criticised an agreement signed on Friday between the French government and the Basel chemical industry to carry out an assessment of the three sites in Alsace by 2007.

It said the accord "gave no firm guarantees" and was a "fresh stalling tactic by Novartis, Ciba and Syngenta".

"We are going to have to put more pressure on the chemical industry," said Wiedmer. "These dumps are an ongoing threat to the environment and the people living close to the sites."

The chemical companies have stated that the waste poses no threat to the environment or public health.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

On Friday the Basel chemical industry signed an agreement with the French government to carry out an assessment of three waste dumps near the Swiss-French border.

Greenpeace Switzerland has accused both sides of dragging their feet, claiming the untreated waste is a threat to the environment and communities on both sides of the border.

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