At least one dead in toxic leak

A toxic leak in the port of Djibouti has still not been completely contained and health fears are growing as the rainy season approaches this month. At least one person has already died.

The latest report on the situation by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that nearly three months after the spill was initially discovered on 9 January, the leak had still not been stemmed. It said efforts were focused on securing the leaking containers and cleaning up five contaminated sites at the port.

The leaking substance, a wood preservative known as chromated copper arsenate (CCA), is highly toxic, corrosive and possibly carcinogenic. There has been at least one death, although a direct link to chemical exposure still has to be established, the OCHA report said. According to latest figures from the World Health Organisation, up to 350 people claim to have been exposed to the chemical.

"The prolonged presence of CCA in groundwater and the possible impact on marine environment is of great concern," the report stressed. "Assessment of the situation has indicated that Djibouti does not have the technical expertise to manage the situation beyond what has already been undertaken."

The Djibouti authorities have stated that the leak is confined to the port itself and international experts earlier stressed that the spill did not constitute a widespread public health problem.