Dutch government blocking ban on toxic emissions from inland shipping: study

AMSTERDAM - Several Ministers and State Secretaries of Infrastructure and Water Management have misinformed the Tweede Kamer about their inability to ban the emission of toxic fumes by inland shipping. Professor of international economic law Allesandra Arcuri of the Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam came to this conclusion in an analysis requested by Omroep Flevoland. 


Barges release large quantities of toxic and carcinogenic fumes along inland shipping routes in the Netherlands daily. That often happens when skippers have delivered their cargo of oil or chemical products - toxic fumes remain in the tanks, which are then blown out to clean the tanks for a new load. The practice is called degassing. 


For at least ten years, the Infrastructure Ministers have said that they wanted to ban degassing but that it was impossible because they were awaiting European regulation. Before they could implement a ban, all the involved countries first had to ratify an international treaty on degassing. France and Switzerland have yet to approve the treaty. 


But according to Acruri, that ratification is not needed for the Netherlands to ban this practice. In fact, the Netherlands may actually be obliged to ban it if you take human rights treaties into account. 


“Our conclusions indeed contrast to what the Minister has said to the Dutch parliament,” Arcuri said to Omroep Flevoland. “First, we found that international treaties concerning the international carriage of goods and waste generated during navigation in rivers do not contain any provisions that would bar the Dutch government to enact a regulation to protect the public interest and the environment.” 


“Second, we found that the Dutch government is most probably obliged to prohibit floating degassing. And this is because the Dutch government is obliged to respect human rights,” Arcuri said. The substances released during degassing are highly toxic and harmful to the environment, and that is contrary to the right to life and the right to respect family life, as enshrined in two articles of the European Convention on Human rights, she explained. 


“What I find most problematic is the communication of the various Ministers to the Dutch parliament,” Arcuri said. When saying that they could not ban the degassing, they referred to general provisions and treaties but never said exactly what was keeping them from the ban. “That makes it very difficult for the public to check the accuracy of what the Minister is saying.” 


“Considering that the inaction of the Dutch government is likely to have a serious impact on public health and the environment, I find this lack of clarity very troubling,” Arcuri said. 


The broadcaster presented the results of Arcuri’s analysis to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. The Ministry said it would respond in a letter to parliament later this month. 

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