The dumping of toxic chemical waste in Côte d’Ivoire that has already killed eight people and led nearly 78,000 others to seek medical care is clearly a crime although who was responsible and the actual nature of the crime has yet to be determined, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) said today.Following a formal request from the Ivorian Government, UNEP is conducting an investigation through the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which it administers.The Convention is now addressing the legal aspects of the situation, UNEP spokesman Michael Williams told a news briefing in Geneva. Under its terms, any nation exporting hazardous waste must obtain prior written permission from the importing country, as well as a permit detailing the contents and destination of the waste. If the waste has been transferred illegally, the exporter is obliged to take back the waste and pay the costs of any damages and clean-up process.The crisis began last month when a ship unloaded 500 tonnes of petrochemical waste into a number of trucks which then dumped it in at least 15 sites around, Abidjan, the West African country’s largest city with about 5 million inhabitants.The waste contained a mixture of petroleum distillates, hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, phenolic compounds and sodium hydroxide. A few days later, thousands of people started complaining of ill health and seeking medical help. Clean-up of the waste has now started but it is anticipated that this will take about six weeks. Symptoms have included nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting, headaches, skin and eye irritation and respiratory symptoms. According to physicians on duty during the first days after the waste was dumped, the most severely affected patients presented respiratory distress, dehydration and intestinal bleeding. Many people are also seeking medical advice because they are anxious about the potential long-term consequences on their health and that of their children.