Government Orders Probe of Suspected Toxic Waste Dump Site by Sihanoukville

The government launched a multi-ministerial probe Tuesday into who is responsible for a suspected toxic waste dump 15 km from Sihanoukville.

Also Tuesday, an expert from Singapore’s environmental agency examined the site.

Environmental officials say that 3,000 tons of material labeled “construction waste” were brought in by boat from Taiwan on Nov 30 and dumped four days later behind a district military police headquarters.

The government’s pollution control officials fear that the site contains metals or chemicals hazardous to human health and the environment, but Cambodia does not have the equipment or expertise to analyze the waste itself.

“An investigative team has been approved and formed to investigate who brought toxic waste into Cambodia,” Environ­ment Minister Mok Mareth said Tuesday. He said the team in­cludes representatives from the ministries of In­terior, Environ­ment, and Par­lia­mentary Rela­tions and Inspec­tion.

Sar Kheng, co-minister of Interior, confirmed Tuesday that he had signed the order. “This is the destruction [of Cambodia], so we have to investigate it.”

Heng Nareth, deputy director of the pollution control department, said the waste is not nuc­lear, but Mok Mareth said Tues­day he believes the waste could be radioactive. Customs officials told an investigative team from the pollution control department last week that high officials in Phnom Penh approved the deal.

Cambodia’s environmental laws do not prohibit the import of waste products, but environmental officials note that since 1996 Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered other countries’ waste not be permitted into the country.

In January 1996, the government turned down a proposal from a Singaporean company to set up a $60 million plant in Sihanoukville that would convert industrial waste into electricity.

Hun Sen said then: “I would like to reaffirm for the last time that I absolutely do not agree with the foreign proposal to im­port waste into Cambodia even if the import is for a modern factory to produce energy or fertilizer.”

While environmental officials maintained this week that the Taiwanese deal is the first large suspected hazardous waste shipment into Cambodia, Mok Mar­eth acknowledged there have been reports of waste being dumped into the ocean near the coast of Cambodia.

 

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