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Kenyans fearful after toxic spill

Workers in Mombasa trying to contain the spill

By Odhiambo Joseph
BBC News, Mombasa

Just a short walk up the road from Kenya's bustling Mombasa port, where ships unload cargo to be transported across East Africa, lies the slum of Kalahari village.

My house was burnt down by the acid, all my utensils melted and the worst of it is that I lost my pregnancy
Kibibi, slum resident
Peter Kamau, who operates a motorcycle taxi taking slum residents to and from the port, said he had been feeling increasingly unwell over the last few weeks.

"I am frequently suffering from stomach upsets and I have also been experiencing chest pains and breathing problems," he said.

He is not the only one. In Kalahari, many of the 5,000 residents have been suffering similar symptoms since two huge rusting containers were dumped on the main road running past the residential area several weeks ago.

Yellowish fumes were still leaking from one of the containers as I approached and the smell was choking.

Fumes coming from the container

Making my way down from the road into Kalahari I had to tiptoe to avoid stepping or falling on the suspicious-looking liquid that was trickling down the slope.

At the bottom I found Roncliff and other residents repairing property they said had been damaged by the cargo waste.

The chemicals have corroded metal sheets used to build houses and melted anything made of plastic.

"We're afraid. We've had several problems health wise because you see this waste was dumped and some of it went to latrines where we go for calls of nature," Roncliff said.

"Recently I don't enjoy sex like I used to. My wife has been complaining too - I'm suspecting that it is the toxic waste to blame as we've never had a problem before."

Miscarriage

Nearby housewife Mariam Rajab said she had been suffering from chest pains.

A worker in protective gear
Workers have complained that they do not feel protected
"I feel my stomach is aching now and then my period has become irregular," she said.

A few houses further on I came across Kibibi who has had to move in with a neighbour. She said she had lost her home and miscarried because of the spill.

"My house was burnt down by the acid, all my utensils melted and the worst of it is that I lost my pregnancy," she said.

"It was a three-month-old pregnancy. I had gone to relieve myself in the toilet, but while I was there I was hit by strong fumes.

"I quickly gathered myself up and ran back towards my room but I could not manage. I fell down and I started bleeding immediately. That is how I lost my pregnancy and even now I'm still bleeding."

An elder of Kalahari said residents were worried about their livestock. He said he had lost five hens and three goats, which had to be buried uneaten because of worries of poison.

Workers from Kenya's National Environmental Management Agency have been trying for almost a week to contain the spill.

Their supervisor says he is confident the workers are safe

But the workers say they are not happy about the situation. They say they fear their protective clothing and gas masks are not effective against the fumes.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Kenya
01 Mar 08 |  Country profiles

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