The industrialized countries are producing enormous quantities of toxic wastes and they do not have enough room to bury them. Disposal has been made even more difficult by pressures from environmental movements and by regulations. Furthermore, the cost of "clean" disposal of wastes, by high-temperature incineration is very high. The industrialized countries have therefore sought to get rid of their wastes on other continents and found out that sending them to developing countries was 10 times cheaper than other method. In the countries of destination, the local trading partners fell into the trap and it had thus been possible to offload substantial shipments.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal requires inter alia that the export of hazardous wastes is only permissible in a case where it present the most environmental sound solution.
In 1988, media coverage alerted the public to the uncontrolled dumping of million of tonnes of hazardous wastes across national borders, notably into Africa and east Europe. The management of wastes by such countries makes them even more hazardous, with practices such as long-term, unregulated storage on land and clandestine dumping into rivers and on the high seas being implicated. In 1994 declassified documents revealed that the UK government had illegally smuggled lethal radioactive debris from H-bomb tests in the Pacific back to the UK on scheduled flights from 1957; air crews were exposed to radiation does more than 30 times higher than the internationally agreed safety limit of the late 1950s when the first UK H-bombs were exploded.
Progressively tighter regulatory controls have increased the costs of waste disposal in many countries. Export to developing countries with less stringent controls and a lower public awareness of the issue has been one way in which some companies have side-stepped these regulations. Officially, fewer than 1,000 tonnes a year are traded to developing countries but illegal traffic in hazardous waste poses a potentially serious threat to the environment and human health (de Nava 1996).