Asia Facing Huge Toxic
Waste Dangers - Shipbreaking
Increases Risks
By Nick Edwards

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Asia's toxic waste nightmare is set to worsen as poor countries, desperate for dollars and eager to expand emaciated economies, do so at the expense of the environment, campaigners said on Monday.
"That is a real danger," Suvit Yodmani, Bangkok-based regional director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), told Reuters by telephone.
"Asian countries have to be very, very careful because of the pace of their industrial development," he said.
UNEP and others are concerned that the quick and dirty dash for growth, which ravaged Asia's environment through the 1980s and 1990s, will continue into the next millennium.
Asia has developed a reputation as a dumping ground for the more than 400 million tons of hazardous waste UNEP estimates the world generates each year.
The region's pollution problems have been highlighted again by violent protests in Cambodia where at least one rioter died during a weekend of demonstrations against suspected toxic waste dumping in the country by a Taiwanese firm.
Banned pesticides, waste oils, heavy metals and hazardous medical waste find their way to the region, despite the Basel Convention -- signed by 117 nations -- banning the export of toxic waste from rich countries to poor ones.
While the Basel Convention has been effective in stopping much of the overt trade in toxic contaminants, environmental campaigners say it continues underground.
Shipbreaking is one of the biggest problems facing Asia, according to environmental group Basel Action Network (BAN).
"About half of the world's broken ships end up in Gujarat (in India) on a 10-kilometer stretch of beach," BAN's Ravi Agarwal said.
There, ships contaminated by asbestos, lead-based paint, heavy metals, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are broken by hand by about 40,000 Indian workers without protective clothing exposing themselves daily to deadly carcinogens, BAN says.
The latest ship destined for the region is P&O Nedlloyd's Encounter Bay, the subject of an intense international campaign by Greenpeace which alleged it contained toxic waste.
Shipbreaking demand is predicted to double over the next five years, ironically as old ships are scrapped because of strict measures that stipulate oil tankers have double hulls to prevent disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.
A growing problem, though, is intra-regional dumping, says Von Hernandez, Greenpeace's Manila-based Asia toxics campaigner.
"Right now it is the newly industrialized economies of Southeast Asia that are generating lots of waste and dumping it in poorer countries in the region," he said.
Hernandez said the Philippines is a major center for lead acid battery dumping, Thailand has become popular for waste oil exports -- mainly from South Korea -- while Cambodia and Indonesia have also seen waste imports rise.
"We cannot put a figure on how big the business is because so much of it goes on illegally and unmonitored," he said.
Many Asian countries do not have the expensive technology needed to deal with toxic wastes they create, let alone imports.
Those that do find them under-utilized because of weak law enforcement, which ensures waste never reaches the plants.
And while Asia's economic crisis threatens to exacerbate regional pollution problems, the drive for efficiency in many industry sectors could help solve them.
A UNEP study involving 35 Asian paper mills showed introducing efficient manufacturing techniques and reducing waste generated savings on the bottom line.
Uwe Weber, Singapore-based deputy director of the European Union-backed Regional Institute of Environmental Technology, said the business case for efficiency had a greater impact than environmental campaigning alone.
"If business starts to do things, it is much more sustainable than development aid which, when it stops after three or five years, just sees projects end. Giving business a stake in it will raise the environment's profile," he said.