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Hazardous Waste Disposal Companies in South Africa

KOKO, Nigeria— In this African delta port, where children run barefoot through oil palm plantations and men pilot dugout canoes through mangrove swamps, the arrival of a ship from Europe has often meant disruption.

Two local place names recall the first contacts with Europe. Escravos and Forcados are the Portuguese words for slaves and indentured. Today, a collection of steel drums stacked behind a villager's family compound here speak of the latest trade with Europe - 10, 000 barrels of toxic waste.

As safety laws in Europe and the United States push toxic disposal costs up to $2, 500 a ton, waste brokers are turning their attention to the closest, poorest and most unprotected shores - West Africa. Offers for a Dump Site

From Morocco to the Congo, virtually every country on West Africa's coast reports receiving offers this year from American or European companies seeking cheap sites to dispose of hazardous waste. Fees offered African recipients have gone as low as $3 a ton.

Some West African countries rank among the poorest in the world, and the offers have been tempting.

In February, officials in Guinea-Bissau signed a five-year contract to bury 15 million tons of toxic wastes from European tanneries and pharmaceutical companies. In return, Guinea-Bissau would receive a yearly payment of $120 million - slightly less than the country's gross national product of $150 million. North Europe's Waste

Two thousand miles to the south, in Congo, Government officials signed a contract to store a million tons of chemical waste from northern Europe in return for $84 million.

But when a furor erupted over what African newspapers now call ''toxic terrorism, '' both African governments quickly repudiated the contracts.

''Dozens of letters from angry readers have been inclined to regard the dumping of toxic wastes as the lastest in a series of historical traumas for the continent, '' read an editorial last month in West Africa, an English-language weekly. The traumas cited were slavery, colonialism and unpayable foreign debts. 'Garbage Dump' for West

Similar outrage has surfaced in the pages of Jeune Afrique, the region's largest-circulation French-language magazine.

''It is no longer a secret for anyone that some African leaders, eager to see their Swiss bank accounts grow, would not hesitate to transform the African continent into a garbage dump for industrial wastes from industrialized countries, '' wrote one reader, Basi Nanchi Ya Rwin-Cin, a Zaire student.

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