Dumping once again



This morning I read this article about toxic sludge being dumped by a tanker in the ocean and washing up on the shores of the Ivory Coast. The kid in the picture above has sores on his body from exposure to this stuff. People have gotten ill from exposure and inhalation of the pollutant and some have even died. Efforts are underway to clean-up and dispose of the waste. But, once a dumping action happens, it is so hard to contain and clean it up. Heinous events like this are inexcusable and I cannot believe more cannot be done to prevent them.

Companies and corporations have a great ability to damage our planet and need incentive to act responsibly. There is a serious need for a global environmental body of law and team of enforcers to make sure that the law is enforced. Where are the regulations we really need to make sure that things of this nature cease? We cannot keep dumping in our oceans and think that the waste will just disappear.

Whatever someone does in one place, in one country, in one moment, will impact the world.

I am reminded of a research trip I took to the island of San Salvador, located far east in the Bahamian Islands. While I was there, I took a trip out to the almost completely uninhabited eastern shore and hiked down to the beach from the road. I came around a bend in the path and was shocked at the site of garbage; garbage as far as the eye could see in all colors of the rainbow. Anything that floats and large pads of petroleum waste were polluting an otherwise pristine tropical beach. I was told that this garbage washed in from cruise ships and whoever else happened by and decided to dump their waste in the water. In investigating the waste, I found languages from around the globe including Japanese, Russian, and English. There are laws against this

I remember when I was a kid in Connecticut, they shut down the beaches because medical waste was washing up on the shore. 

There is not one place on the planet that has not felt human presence in the form of pollutants. Even in Antartica, coke cans sometimes wash up next to the penguins…

I am also reminded of images of sea birds covered in oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, back in the 1980s. This tragedy prompted Congress to pass the Oil Pollution Act in 1990, tightening regulations on oil tankers.

I hope that the same will come out of this recent careless act in Africa.


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About Jennifer Veilleux
Dr. Jennifer Veilleux is a geographer, writer, and artist. For more than a decade, she has worked on scientific research and security issues facing water resources shared across political boundaries. Research and curiosity has taken her to more than 50 countries on 5 continents, often to remote locations and marginalized communities. Veilleux takes portraits of people she encounters in her field work and recently released a collection, Portraits from Rivers of Change, that can be viewed here: www.jenniferveilleux.com. These portraits highlight two separate communities, one on the Mekong River the other on the Blue Nile River, facing relocation due to dam development. Dr. Veilleux works for Florida International University as a post doctoral associate for the Institute of Water and Environment and manages SELVA, the Serengeti-Lake Victoria Sustainable Water Initiative, a research project on water security of the Mara River in the Upper Nile basin of Tanzania. She maintains a blog, The Way of Water, dedicated to news and commentary about development on the Nile and Mekong, general water resources issues, and special topics related to women in science. She lives in Miami with her cat Mr. FC Sweet Tea.


  1. Horrible image, nice summation. Yet, as you know this is unlikely to change any time soon as African nations have little economic clout – and this is only going to get much, much, much, much, much worse over the coming decades unless there is a wholesale leadership change/revolution in all first world nations and their supporting world-body systems (World Bank, etc.). Expect more of this, not less and expect to feel more horror, more shame, more helplessness. Shopping at Whole Foods, buying organic foods, driving a Prius – none of this will help this kid in even the slightest way. No, we need a worldwide bottom up movement. But first we need the leaders – have you seen them? I sure haven’t. Thanks for the post and the reminder. Without these reminders, we haven’t a chance.

  2. Socialpyramid says:

    I didn’t even hear about this latest spill. Proves yet again that Americans know little of what goes on in the rest of the world. I also always think of this when people complain that wind turbines chop up birds. First, turbine manufacturers are getting a lot better at seriously decreasing the numbers of birds and bats that could be injured (slower moving blades, better positioning and placement, sound and light deterrents, etc). Second, oil spills kill huge numbers of birds, and wind gets us away from oil.

  3. Thank you both for taking the time to read this.

    Tod – Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Agreed, the problems will just continue to grow in light of a very disorganized environmental movement. That being said, there is still a movement. I do believe that we must start with ourselves; it is important to make socially responsible choices even if they seem trite in the face of global disasters and the suffering of people, such as the child. Sometimes it is easy to feel helpless in the face of multinational corporations or governments, and to feel a bit cynical about the Whole Foods crowd, but positive thinking is a powerful thing and every little bit counts.
    I believe that once we made the change in ourselves; to recycle, to get rid of the car, to buy a hybrid, to bike more often, to use fluorescent bulbs, ditch the TV set, to buy organic, to become a vegetarian, to study environmental science; the next step is to get involved in real organized pressure, create or join in a powerful lobby, have a voice at the Board Meetings of these giant organizations such as U.N. or World Bank. These agencies function outside of any nation-state regulation, but they are only worth what their contributers give them. They bow to the funding. If we can somehow jump on that aspect we can work toward a sane future that includes respect for living things and responsibility for our actions no matter the economic cost.
    Lastly, I feel you on the lack of good leadership, we do need good leaders. Where are they?

    Socialpyramid – Thank you for that information on the wind mills. The further we get from oil the better, and every little bit counts. NIMBY groups have been very influential in the move to stop these wind farms off the coast of NY and New England for reasons such as birds. It is good to know the companies are addressing these flaws with new designs.

  4. Jen –

    Sorry if I was unclear. ..I get heated when I see pix like this, of course, meaning cogent thoughts sometimes are difficult to express. I absolutely agree that we must make the daily ‘small’ decisions (bulbs, tv, organic, et cetera), but I get frustrated at times with those around me who feel that this is “enough”. Yet, I also understand that not everyone can devote more energy (not punny) than making these consumer choices and I do not, in any way, intend to slight the overall effectiveness, on some levels, of these choices. Lester Brown, founder of Worldwatch Institute and Earth Policy Institute (and with whom I have partnered to get the word out about his latest efforts through a unique strategy – end full disclosure) repeatedly emphasizes the need to “work at war-time speed.” I cannot stress this enough. We need leaders who will convert industry, or portions of each component of our national (U.S.) industries to making an immediate transition from non-renewable energies to renewable and clean alternatives. It could well be that it’s already too late, but we must must must push as hard as we can RIGHT NOW (which is why tepid legislation like that in California frustrates me while giving me tiny hope) to make these changes. To sum up this not-quite-coherent statement: Your image reminded me that NOW means TODAY, not tomorrow. Simple, I know, but it’s quite easy to think of solutions as “just around the corner” and to ease off the throttle a bit. We can’t afford to let up, not even a little. Again, thanks for the site. . .it is one that I return to regularly.


  5. This just reminds me once again that environmentalism is a class issue. Poor people are more vulnerable to the consequences of environmental devastation. The richer you are the longer you can hide in an air conditioned house, drink bottled water, and stockpile organic food, while pretending that the Earth isn’t getting warmer, the water isn’t contaminated, and the soil’s good and fertile.

    I’ve heard the argument that it doesn’t matter if humanity destroys the planet because we’ll just be destroying ourselves. Earth will prevail, other life forms will go on, and our stupid self-extermination will merely be poetic justice. I disagree with that argument, however, because I think that it belies a priviledged perspective. Humanity won’t wipe itself out in one fell swoop. Rich and privileged people will be left standing long after this African baby has gone to meet its maker. So, my question is this: Do we really want George Bush and Paris Hilton and Martha Stewart to be the final representatives of our species? That horrifying thought should be a powerful enough incentive to make us all recycle.

    Thanks for the post, Jen. I don’t think we can ever have too many reminders of this. It just isn’t right.

  6. Looking at the big beautiful eyes on that child who is covered in sores makes me extremely angry about what mankind has shown itself to be willing to inflict on its own species–we can’t even begin to understand the impact on other species and biodiversity as a whole.

    When it comes to the problem(s) with the environmental movement, I think it is more than just a matter of disorganization. My background is in the biological sciences and I am a mother so I am especially worried about the long-term consequences of our current behavioral patterns. At the same time, I must admit to being quite turned off by some elements of the environmental movement, especially as it is commonly found in the Western world. There is a certain elitist attitude–exhibited by some, not all–that makes a lot of people feel quite disconnected from what they may actually believe to be quite admirable goals.

    Having lived below the poverty line as a young child it became clear to me that recycling and organic diets and vegetarianism are luxuries for a lot of people. Even now that I can better afford to engage in more socially-responsible activities, some of them are still unattainable. This can be a very disappointing situation if you’re a part of a movement where there is the same sort of hierarchy that has allowed the Developed Nations to dump on (pardon the pun) Lesser-Developed Nations.

    What’s missing in the environmental movement that I think would make the biggest difference (in terms of getting more people to feel like they have a vested interest in protecting the biosphere) is a sense of true egalitarianism. I think that often times people of color have seen those in the movement ride roughshod over their own local strategies for dealing with environmental issues. Even if those in Lesser-Developed Nations were given the sort of economic aid that would enable them to engage in the sort of remediation and conservatory behaviors that middle to upper class Westerners can afford to subsidize (which I don’t forsee happening any time soon), as long as eco-colonialism is a part of the environmental movement, I think it will remain a “side issue” for most people.

  7. Thank you for your comment.
    I find that this perspective is very interesting and would like to understand more about what you mean with specific examples. Something is definitely wrong with the movement and it is important to get to the bottom of what it is.
    I have heard it stated many times that the environment is something that middle-class, white, latte-sipping, volvo-driving people are concerned with. I heard it as recently as last year at a union meeting in NYC on solar installation. But, it was in the context of “the environment is no longer just the concern of the latte-drinking…”, and that statement gave me hope.

    From my experience working overseas in an area where the World Bank, UNDP, and other “environmental agencies” were running projects I learned that these projects were not designed for the local communities as much as to just spend money; the environment was not at the heart of the agency agendas.
    Western “expert” consultants devised ideas and solutions often inappropriate for the region or the environmental challenge.
    Western consultants came in and discounted local knowledge or collected only limited information (in a short period of time, usually during the summer) and then drew conclusions based upon this incomplete or biased data set.

    On the flip side, I remember having a discussion in a course one time about how environmental problems are a global issue. The professor tried to discount my assertion by asking about where I come from and how polluted that place is. I was in a class full of Eastern European and Central Asian students and and of course his point was that I come from a very affluent place where we can afford to remediate or manage our environment for healthy living. But, pollution is not always something money can fix.
    The air quality in CT is very poor due to coal burning in states in the mid-west, metal and chemical industry were heavy until the 1950s (some persist today) and left their legacy in our rivers and lakes and Long Island Sound, pharmacuetical companies now dump estrogen laiden effluent into those same rivers, and there are burning facilities for hazardous waste. Cancer clusters exist. All of the trees that exist today are second or third generation forests due to agriculture and heavy clear-cutting. Contaminated urban landscapes gape empty in our cities. Landfills pile high next to waterways and much of the population still uses well water.
    Even though the state is rich and appears pollution free, you only have to scratch the surface to find something.
    I understand that a state in America has much more manageable challenges than does a nation-state in the developing world.
    There are strong economic ties to environment health. Rape the countries with the poor governance, poor economies, but abundance of raw materials by taking as much as possible as fast as possible with no regard to the practice. Dump in places where there are little or no political consequences.
    BUT, this is important ot the movement and it speaks to the divide between the rich and poor people, rich and poor countries:
    If we shift the focus from us against ourselves in some hierarchy of the masses, remember that we are, in fact, the masses, and look instead toward the violators themselves – large companies, corporations, banks, international agencies, and governments; we will see that we are all being disrespected, disregarded, and dumped on in the name of the mighty dollar bill.

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