Residents worried about chemicals next-door

Families living near chemical stocks recently uncovered throughout the Guinean capital Conakry are appealing to the authorities and NGOs for help in coping with potential health problems from the substances, which have yet to be removed.

In July Guinea’s armed forces seized throughout Conakry large quantities of chemicals that can be used to make and refine illicit drugs. While the substances are commonly used in industrial processes, the quantities discovered were in excess of Guinea’s legitimate demands, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which recently assessed the situation in Guinea.

Health officials told IRIN the full extent of risk to the population is not yet known and more analysis is needed. UNODC in a 7 August statement said the substances’ proximity to populations poses a health danger.

In the neighbourhood of Gbessia Port 1, security forces with Guinea's anti-drug, anti-crime unit are posted to keep watch on a high-walled courtyard, one of the sites where the substances were found. Several families live near the courtyard, including that of Binty Camara, member of a community association appealing for aid.

“It is just recently we learned that there are toxic substances next-door to us,” Camara told IRIN, seated in her nearly empty compound adjacent to the chemicals. Most of the 20 people of the extended-family household have left the area and are living with relatives, she said. “We had to evacuate the children.”

Camara Ousmane, doctor at the Gbessia Port 1 health centre, said the ideal would be to have anyone living near the sites to move away pending more analysis but people cannot afford it. “The storage of these products in our environment constitutes a real danger."

The community association has sent letters to the Health Ministry, the Guinean Red Cross, the governor and the mayor to tell them people are ill, asking them to do everything possible to help cover the costs of medical tests and treatment needed as a result of the chemicals, Binty Camara said.

“When we would see people delivering things here, we thought it was just a construction project," she told IRIN. "We never thought it was something like this. It was from the television that I learned that there were toxic substances here. That night I did not sleep.”

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Barrels of chemicals stored in a neighbourhood of Conakry


Junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara, who took power in a coup in December, has appealed to the international community for help to remove the substances.

“We do not have the means to do so,” Tiegboro Camara, minister in charge of the fight against drugs and crime, told IRIN. “It is critical that the affected populations be rid of this danger.”

He added: “The Guinean government of President Moussa Dadis Camara is counting enormously on the international community. This is a question of security after all.”

For now the government has taken measures recommended by chemical experts to securely store the products, Minister Camara said.

Antonio Mazzitelli, UNODC representative for West Africa, said the agency is coordinating a follow-up mission of UN and other partners in Guinea to finalize the forensic analysis and advise on the disposal of the substances.

Mazzitelli said while for now no operational drug-making labs were found in Guinea, the scenario indicates that traffickers were headed in that direction.

“We cannot conclude that narcotic labs are operating in Guinea,” he said. “But based on the evidence of the presence of these substances and the fact that some equipment [that could be used for drug manufacturing] was also seized, we can legitimately state that traffickers in Guinea had developed the capacity to produce drugs like ecstasy and refine cocaine and heroin.”

Guinea is among several West African countries now hubs for the trafficking of cocaine from Latin America to Europe as well as other illegal substances, according to UNODC.