By Larry Romanoff, March 19, 2023
Dumping radioactive waste into the world’s seas began in 1946 with a scientific argument
whose foundation was the vastness of the oceans. Source
Chernobyl. Or, Maybe Not
It is not a secret that the US and other industrialised nations have for decades made a practice of shipping their toxic waste to poor nations, either under a pretense of “salvaging and re-manufacturing”, as in the case with toxic electronic waste or, often, under the guise of charity in the case of dumping a nation’s medical waste onto poor nations. Canada’s CBC quoted in an article from a 2008 United Nations report that the toxic waste from rich countries was “overwhelming poorer nations“. This essay provides a sampling of these practices.
This topic achieved international attention on the discovery of an internal memo signed by Lawrence Summers in 1991 when he was Chief Economist of the World Bank, (later President of Harvard University), which said in part: “From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” Here is the original text of Summers’ memo, copied from Wikipedia:
DATE: December 12, 1991
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:
1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.
3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.
The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.
(signed) Lawrence Summers
As you can imagine, there was a great deal of scrambling to save face when this memo became public. Wikipedia and many others have acknowledged that this was a Summers memo, but that it “was intended only as sarcasm“. The Harvard University Magazine tells us that “the memo was composed by a young economist who worked for him, and that Summers, after a cursory review of it, co-signed it to stimulate internal debate.” Summers is supposed to have said later that he should “read more carefully” what he signs.
This dumping can take almost any form. We are familiar with Japan’s plans to dump its nuclear-toxic water from the Fukushima disaster into the Pacific Ocean, thereby likely contaminating half the world, but there is much more we don’t see in media reports. As many know, China imports large amounts of scrap metal to be re-melted and re-refined, because this tends to be less expensive than processing raw ore. But Chinese authorities became suspicious when they began to receive rapidly-increasing shipments of scrap metal from Japan shortly after the Fukushima meltdown, and were surprised to discover that hidden in the center of the containers of ordinary scrap were piles of heavily-radioactive scrap metal salvaged from the damaged reactor. Japan was unapologetic.
One unknown problem experienced by most militaries is the disposal of outdated munitions and explosives. This is not a small problem, since much of this waste is biological and chemical, and a very considerable amount contains nuclear waste not only from weapons but from weapons processing. The Americans’ usual method is to load an old and useless ship right to the gunwales with nuclear (or biological or chemical) waste, sail the ship to a predetermined location, and scuttle it. Though this kind of information never passes the media censors in the US, the American military have done this so often they even have a name for it – Operation CHASE – the name being Pentagon shorthand for “Cut Holes and Sink ‘Em.”  It is extremely difficult to locate useful information on this topic because it is so heavily censored by both the US (and other) governments, and most articles on the topic dramatically downplay the volume of such activities.
In many locations around the world, the US has sunk ships, either by opening shuttlecocks to permit seawater to enter, or by detonating explosives, these vessels containing everything from thousands of tons of nerve gas or mustard gas, surplus or defective mines and bombs, radioactive waste and, on many occasions, biological pathogens from institutions like Fort Detrick or Dugway. In most every case, nobody knows, and those who do know would lose their lives if they spoke of it. If America ever needed another public Congressional hearing, it would be to reveal all the locations of these disposals and, in many cases, the payment of immense compensation to other nations. This is one reason countries like China, Russia, Korea, don’t want American ships anywhere near their ocean borders. It doesn’t help to know that the waste is dumped in “international waters” when those waters are only 12 miles from your shore.
In total, public records alone reveal the US military sunk at least 100,000 tons of munitions and chemical warfare weapons in various sections of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; almost certainly there were more that did not make the public record. As well, this program may have been a cover for illegal underwater nuclear detonations that were banned by treaty at the time. In one case in 1964, the, supposedly containing a typical load of about 8,000 tons of munitions, was towed out into the Atlantic and sunk. However, shortly after sinking, three massive detonations occurred that registered on seismic equipment all over the world, explosions far too large to have resulted from the stated content of conventional explosives.
The photo is of barrels of American nuclear waste that washed ashore in Somalia after a tsunami.
This oddly relates to the plague of piracy that occurred in the ocean near Somalia after about 2010. Most readers will recall the flood of media stories of ocean pirates in small boats venturing into the seas to hijack commercial ships for ransom. One part of that story that somehow escaped the Western media is that those pirates were converted fishermen, and that the main reason they were no longer fishermen was that the seas bordering Somalia were heavily contaminated with nuclear radiation and that fish were either non-existent or dangerously inedible. The reason, and the reason for the vengeful piracy, was that the US government, looking for a safe place to store tens of thousands of barrels of highly toxic nuclear waste, discovered a convenient depository in the ocean bordering Somalia where the Americans dumped all those barrels, many of which were old and leaking and many of which broke open on reaching the ocean floor, thereby contaminating everything including the fish. The piracy was largely payback, and Somalia isn’t the only place in the world’s oceans where the Americans have dumped toxic and lethal nuclear and chemical waste. It was Greenpeace who first exposed this practice, and I have contacts in Somalia who confirm this version of events.
Chernobyl. Or, Maybe Not
In addition to the deliberate and accidental population-irradiating incidents above, there was an interesting event that occurred in the North-Western US and Western Canada, in the Spring of 1986. That was the time of the explosion at the nuclear power station in Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, where the meltdown released large quantities of radioactive particles, contaminating the atmosphere of Western Europe and perhaps spreading farther. It was then that Canadian government scientists discovered high levels of nuclear radiation existing in Western Canada’s lakes and drinking water reservoirs. The contamination was at first naturally attributed to Chernobyl, but it was then discovered that the radiation in Canadian waters was “dirty”, consisting of things like Cobalt and Iodine that are not found in nuclear reactors.
Further investigation revealed the source. Some time prior to the accident at Chernobyl, the US military had conducted an underground nuclear test in the Western US, in which something untoward had occurred and had damaged all the measuring instruments. The authorities badly needed to learn what had gone wrong, but the only path to that information was to open the hole and release all the radiation in order to recover the instrumentation. But exposing the civilian population to that much radiation was politically too dangerous to contemplate, so a problem with no solution until, like the answer to a prayer, Chernobyl appeared. After patiently waiting for the Chernobyl radiation to spread in the earth’s atmosphere, and after some promotion in the compliant media about the possibility of that radiation spreading as far as North America, the US military opened the hole and released the radiation from their failed test, contaminating the entire North West of the US and a large part of Canada. They not only salvaged their test, but gained the invaluable propaganda feature of being able to smugly blame that lethal blanket of radiation on the failure of communism. Not only the answer to a prayer but an unexpected and hugely profitable propaganda coup. Well done. And no leakage of the truth ever reached the media, the entire event being heavily censored in the US.
I became aware of that event, did a bit of my own research, and wrote a letter that was published in what was at the time called the Manchester Guardian Weekly, a small but rather influential international onionskin newspaper. Very shortly thereafter, I received a call from a woman, apparently in Toronto, claiming to be a “self-employed nuclear disaster consultant”, the first time I’d heard of such an occupation. As a credential, she told me she had been retained as a consultant to advise the US government on the nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island, a surprising revelation considering the massive cover-up of that disaster. Her story was that upon reading my published letter, the Americans called her to ask if she had leaked the information to me (as if she would have known of a secret failed military test) and, if not, insisting she contact me to salvage her endangered reputation by learning my sources and reporting back. It was a perfect story, with all her details unverifiable, and one that reeked with the stink of the CIA.
This is one example of the American practice of dumping medical waste onto poorer nations, and provides some insight into the collaboration between the US government, American medical institutions, various NGOs, and private individuals, to make all this happen. I was already living in China at the time and witnessed this one personally.
According to Chinese state authorities, Ron Brown of the AGAPE Foundation of Peachtree City, Georgia, traveled to Wuhan in late 2004 and signed a contract with several domestic charitable organisations in China to provide 2 million RMB each year of medical supplies and materials, in part to assist with cardiac surgery and treatments, but the overall purpose was stated as being “to improve the lives of orphans and the lonely elderly”. So far, so good.
Some time after the signing of this agreement, AGAPE shipped its first ‘donation’ of medical devices to Shaoyang City in Hunan. I happened to be in Shanghai at the time and was watching a TV news program which included a segment on this first AGAPE donation of medical supplies, the container being opened in the presence of local medical officials and a TV news crew. The shipment included heart surgery kits, medical outfits, medical gloves, pledgets, adhesive tapes, waste bins, catheters, sutures, syringes, and other accessories. We watched while the Customs Officers and medical staff examined the contents of these containers. What we saw was appalling.
The donated “medical supplies” had been re-packed in old boxes bearing labels for foodstuffs, electronics, and even Coca Cola and KFC, many of which were soiled by mildew, oil, and dirt stains, and emitted strong odors. All of the medicines, drugs, pharmaceuticals, were past (or long past) their safe-use dates. Carton after carton of syringes, bandages, sterile wrappings and similar items were all in packages that had been opened and were no longer sterile. It was easy, even on TV, to see that many of the syringes had been used, then replaced in their packages, and one could see the cockroaches crawling around inside the supposedly-sterile cartons. Catheters that were supposedly to be used for heart surgery, had clearly been previously used, were in non-sterile packaging, and suitable only for discard. The disposable syringes contained a suspicious black fluid and had lost their sterility through exposure to the air, while reagents and disinfectants had leaked, contaminating other items.
The shipment contained hundreds of cartons of expired and damaged medical supplies, all clearly used and discarded, many boxes of second-hand medical equipment that also appeared used and damaged. There were as well perhaps 100 cartons of childrens’ medical supplies, all of which had obviously been used and discarded. The many wheelchairs in the container were simply thrown into a heap, all clearly broken and unusable, many with broken wheels or no wheels at all. It was all rubbish.
Nevertheless, a bit later, yet another shipment arrived from the Foundation, (with a stated value of several hundred thousand dollars), this time entering Tianjin customs, with the same results. The shipment consisted of almost 1,000 cartons of expired and used disposable medical devices, non-sterile supplies where all the packaging was damaged and contents exposed to contamination, moldy and stained clothing and filthy, used surgical clothing. Customs inspectors found medical pipes that expired in 1998, dirty, mildewed sheets and used surgical gowns stained with blood. Many staff on the scene reported examining children’s and other clothing that was dirty, covered with blood, and otherwise damaged and soiled. It was apparent from watching on TV and was also the consensus of the medical authorities that this clothing was from people who died in accidents and hospitals, with evidence that much of the clothing had been rescued from dumpsters. The entire shipment was garbage. The government closed and locked the containers and returned them to the US. These “charitable donations” were such a shock the UK Guardian covered them in an article, stating, “Thousands of pounds of medical equipment donated to China will be returned to the US because it includes stained bedding, used surgical clothes and expired medical equipment.” The Chinese news media were understated, reporting simply that “three containers of donations sent to charitable organisations in Beijing and the northern provinces of Anhui and Hebei were found to be of “questionable quality” and would be sent back to the US.”
Not to be daunted, another shipment from AGAPE soon appeared in Anhui province, another nearly 1,000 cartons of used and expired medical material with a stated value of $115,000. A short while later, the City Health Bureau of Inner Mongolia received a large shipment of used, damaged and expired supplies, dirty old clothing “and other foreign garbage”. The cartons even contained old quilts covered in what appeared to be blood stains, used and stained gauze rolls and bandages, and filthy boxes that could have contained nothing but infectious bacteria. The shipment was also returned to the US. The Chinese media said, “The real situation of these donations was amazing.” By this time, the shipments contained such serious quality problems that China’s state council issued a warning notice on all shipments of medical supplies from the Foundation. After receipts of the shipments noted below, China’s State Inspection and Quarantine issued a total ban on anything originating from the AGAPE and LDS Foundations, and informed the US Embassy of this fact.
In Wuhan, the Hubei province Inspection and Quarantine Bureau was on the scene with various local medical and charitable personnel, as well as representatives from AGAPE, to welcome a donation of medical supplies which were to consist of cardiac surgery kits, syringes, reagents, wheelchairs, etc. The Foundation stated its donations to Hubei hospital were “to supply its open-heart surgery mission” in the region. The beautifully understated Inspection report said, “Field test results were unexpected”. Unexpected, indeed. The entire contents of both shipments, ‘valued’ at several hundred thousand dollars, consisted of used and discarded wheelchairs missing wheels and other major parts, and cartons of expired medications. Another shipment of ‘medical equipment’ contained around 600 cartons in which the medications had all expired by the delivery date, some having expired almost 15 years prior. The balance of the shipment consisted of syringes in damaged packaging that was no longer sterile, others with an unknown dirty liquid, spider webs, mildewed and contaminated supplies, and used medical waste. The Inspection staff quarantined the shipment on the spot and ordered it immediately incinerated.
A short while later, the American LDS Foundation headquartered in Utah, a charitable arm of the Mormon Church, shipped another container to Wuhan, this one weighing ten tons and ‘valued’ at $360,000 (but valued for their tax deductions at $4 million), that authorities described as “the largest shipment of foreign medical waste in history”. And this was truly medical waste – used and discarded syringes, blood-stained bandages, damaged instruments, and worse. The shipment contained hundreds of cartons of expired medical supplies, used and damaged second-hand medical equipment, old and damaged rehabilitation equipment, used and non-sterile heart surgery kits, used and stained medical outfits, used medical gloves, pledgets, adhesive tapes, old medical waste bins, non-sterile catheters and sutures, and other accessories. Once again, all medications had expired prior to arrival in China, some having reached their expiration dates 15 years prior. The shipment contained not only expired and used supplies, but also used and discarded bedding and clothing that were filthy, much of it blood-stained, the remainder mildewed, torn and faded. Liquids had leaked everywhere, and all supplies were packed in dirty, used boxes which were stained with mildew, oil and other contaminants, making the containers appear to be garbage bins – which they were. Experts at Wuhan Medical University who examined the shipment contents, asserted they were simply a dumping of medical waste. The two loads were incinerated almost immediately after opening. The LDS Foundation claimed to have no knowledge of these events, but declined opportunities for media interviews. Following these American misadventures, the Chinese charities took legal action to sever their contracts with AGAPE, and China’s national government instituted a total ban on all non-factory shipments of medical equipment and supplies from the US and the West, with heavy fines for any violation.
After some investigation, medical authorities concluded that AGAPE had scoured the US for medical waste from sources scattered throughout the country, those sources then shipping their medical waste directly to China while AGAPE took the tax deductions for the claimed values. India reported similar issues of not only medical waste but electronic waste that was economically useless, could not be recycled, and was dangerous or expensive to destroy. India estimated at the time more than half of the small-scale waste products in the country had originated in the US and Europe, disposed of by shipping to India as ‘charitable donations’, a major portion of this product being potentially lethal medical waste. It was not only cheaper to ship these categories of garbage to China or India than to deal with them locally, but the Western charities profited hugely from these schemes since they could charge disposal fees to local US firms. In the case of electronic components, these charities could charge an American firm $20 to dispose of a PC or equivalent amount of computer trash, then ship it to a poor country for less than $2, and pocket the difference. A similar case was true for medical waste. In fact, such imports had been banned in China and other nations years earlier, but the huge profits made these collections and shipments too enticing for American charities to resist, resulting in a huge illegal market for the dumping of medical and other hazardous wastes.
A reporter informed us that AGAPE entered a figure of only $30,000 for the value of its first China “donation”, but claimed an air transport cost of $400,000 – even though the shipments were made by ocean container! AGAPE explained that the apparently low value of the goods in these shipments was due to their being priced “at cost”, and passing into China duty-free. Otherwise, they claimed, the “real” cost would have been many times higher. Then, in a surprising accounting maneuver which I don’t even pretend to understand, Brown claimed that $800,000 of total surgery costs in “Asia” would entail a much lesser expense for materials – perhaps only 10%, with the balance being transportation etc. Then, working backwards, he created an assumed cost for transportation (for the supposed $30,000 value of medical waste) of US$400,000, claiming this amount as a tax credit in keeping with his Foundation’s tax-exempt status as a US charitable organisation. This scam was almost certainly done with the active participation, and quite possibly the encouragement, of the US State Department, since many of these so-called charities are primarily political NGOs fronting as something more innocent, many of them, like Bob Fu’s China Aid, having direct and open links to the White House.
These offensive practices imposed a significant financial burden on the other nations, since most of this hazardous waste was both dangerous and expensive to de-contaminate and destroy locally. The local Chinese charities suffered financially to the extent of millions of dollars by having to absorb port fees on shipments plus all logistics costs, tax and customs clearances, inspections and medications tests, and many other procedures, as well as the heavy costs of either returning the containers to the US or the local destruction of the contents. Even more, the Chinese charities paid the travel expenses of AGAPE and other US charity executives to China, including their airfares and hotel accommodation plus living expenses while in the country, all in anticipation of genuine medical donations. Of course, the Americans know nothing of this, since the US media censor all such stories and neither Google nor Bing seem to yet have discovered it. By contrast, Baidu serves up about 150,000 pages on this topic of AGAPE, the LDS and other American Charities and Foundations. When confronted with this mountain of appalling evidence, Ron Brown, director of the Agape Foundation, stated that “one of the containers had been delayed in shipment”, causing “some supplies to expire”. Brown asserted that local Chinese authorities had destroyed usable supplies along with expired ones, noting that the reasons behind this were “dubious”. When asked why the Chinese would refuse (and incinerate) donations of good medical supplies worth millions of dollars, Brown’s response was to say, “The key is that we reduced paying bribes to them.” Charming.
Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 32 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes’. (Chapt. 2 — Dealing with Demons).
His full archive can be seen at
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 Summers memo
 Toxic Memo
 Operation CHASE
 Operation CHASE
Source of the featured image: