I have always been concerned about environmental problems in the oceans or forests. My problem is that I preferred to be in the field defending our planet than to be in school and listen to advice not to act right away.
The environmental group I have always supported is Greenpeace. Because their goal is to protect our earth from government abuse and to put pressure on polluting companies. This is exactly my philosophy.
Moreover, being in Canada, I cannot forget that this organization was born in Vancouver. Today, I still support them to protect whales and to face the abusive hunting of some countries.
In 2000, I had a very good contact with the person in charge of the campaign for Greenpeace France. Thanks to her I was able to carry out 3 targeted actions. At that time, I was living in Strasbourg (France), so close to the German border, Switzerland and the Eastern countries.
The campaigner calls me and tells me that Greenpeace International needs 100 activists to form a perimeter and occupy the site of the toxic waste dump and the buildings of the former CISA factory in the village of Bonfol, located in the French-Swiss Jura region.
Without hesitation I agreed to go there for at least a week. On the spot the logistics were organized by Greenpeace Switzerland.
From one day to the next, I went by train to this beautiful region. On the way I met some activists and we spent a night in a village before leaving for the site. The next day, a real caravan of trucks arrived in a small village used to calm. Of course everyone was watching us.
The building had been abandoned for years and I had my room on the second floor. All the activists were staying inside or outside in tents, campers? It was a wild camping in a surreal atmosphere.
What you need to know is that from 1961 to 1976, different chemical companies from Basel (Novartis, Roche, Clariant and Ciba) discharged different toxic substances (zinc, lead, cadmium and mercury: 114'000 tons) in the former Bonfol clay pit.
To this end, Greenpeace demanded that the dangerous industrial landfill be cleaned up and that the Basel chemical company be held responsible for their site. The infrastructure of the former CISA factory, whose ceramics production was responsible for the clay field, was full of toxic chemical waste.
I remember that one night we were on the site to take samples from the landfill. The goal was to bring them in a barrel to the headquarters of the Basel industries. Greenpeace discovered: "high levels of dioxins and furans, percolating water containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and very high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and aromatic nitrogen bonds containing substances that can be highly toxic and carcinogenic".
And that's not all, "the water table flows in the Sundgau gravel, the geological layer that supplies the inhabitants of the Allaine and Largue valley with drinking water. This sample contains chlorobenzenes like all the other samples; this constitutes a threat for the drinking water of thousands of people".
In short, I can say that the water table is contaminated. The organizers told me that, and I quote: "Dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to mankind, which is why they are internationally banned. Since between 1961 and 1976 Bonfol was the only legal landfill for BCI chemical waste in Switzerland, it must be assumed that waste containing dioxins was stored in Bonfol.
While we were there, the industries refused to recognize the dangers despite our evidence! The press releases were against us and nobody could do anything. The polluters collect big profits to satisfy their shareholders and their own purses.
We decided to stay as long as possible so that the place would be financed by them, and also for all the Basel chemical dumps.
The Basel-based chemical transnationals Novartis and Ciba SC have been promising for months to inform the public about the results of their landfills; they have never done anything. Novartis, Roche, Ciba, Syngenta & Co. position themselves as world-class companies and are obliged to take responsibility.
When the work starts, dioxins threaten not only the health of the workers who will be in charge of the remediation work, but also the population of Bonfol, Basel, Belfort, Montbéliard and the neighbouring communities.
I finally stayed there for a week because I had to return for different reasons. I was working as a volunteer activist and time was against me. I loved these moments with all these people coming from all over Europe, especially during the night when in small groups we went to take samples. One morning, we were a dozen activists who handed over the barrel number 8 containing contaminated seepage water that flows from the toxic waste dump in the Jura. This drum was accompanied by a banner underlining the necessity of an immediate remediation of the hazardous waste dump. We were dressed all in white like people working in nuclear plants. It was very fast and as usual we had to do it properly before the police came. The adrenaline was pumping before, during and after on the way back.
My second memory was my first hot air balloon ride! A team from the Greenpeace headquarters in Amsterdam came with all their equipment to set up the organization's huge and famous hot air balloon. This one was visible in all the magazines and could be seen from far away. I had the chance to help them to set it up, to make a first test at a few meters from the ground attached to the trailer of a car. I remember very well the incredible heat due to the flame to force it to take off!
In any case, I have very good memories of my days spent in their team. In addition, people from the village encouraged us and sometimes we received cakes, cookies or other things to thank us for our action. What an encouragement!
I know that the activists stayed more than 2 months on the site of Bonfol. The organization stopped its occupation of the dangerous industrial dump because the Basler chemische Industrie (BCI) had agreed to clean it up completely. But at the last news, the file is not closed!
Greenpeace Switzerland, authorized by "Greenpeace Switzerland/Clement Tolusso".
The Second Action:
Afterwards, Greenpeace France asked me to go to Vienna for an action at the headquarters of the United Nations because there was a conference on GMOs. The journey was very long by train, departure from Strasbourg (France) but it remains a good memory. Greenpeace Austria had prepared a staging with dancers dressed as vegetables and an orchestra playing Mozart.
I wore an ancient garment and a banner advocating the banning of GMOs in our plates. After this day, I stayed a bit to visit the city full of history. Unfortunately for me, all the historical monuments were under construction and covered.
I had to meet a whole team at the station of Bale (Switzerland) to prepare an action against a train transporting radioactive waste coming from the East for the reprocessing plant of the Cogema in France. We spent one night there and then we positioned ourselves in the evening on the tracks just before the French border. Each of us had a phone number of a lawyer in case we were arrested by the police.
An activist and I were positioned a few meters ahead to radio the arrival of the train. The second team was ready to chain themselves to the tracks as soon as I called.
Hiding in a bush all night in the freezing cold, the wait was difficult. Finally, the train passed early in the morning, but too fast for the second team to get ready. I remember that normally a train should not exceed a maximum speed in order not to risk an accident, but this one was going very fast and crossed the border without slowing down.
The operation did not work but again it was a good experience.
In the end, the person in charge of the Greenpeace France campaigns in Paris left and nobody contacted me anymore? Moreover, I was thinking of coming to live in Canada, so I did not want to take the risk of being arrested by the police. Such an act was not conceivable for the immigration file.
All this to say that I thank Greenpeace for having introduced me to their coordination, their work, to travel and to meet people who have the same perception of ecology. I was aware of the risks but I would never give up. Adrenaline and risk are part of the rules of the game?
It is obvious that I will always be by their side, especially when I watch the videos of the zodiacs facing the Japanese boats. Sometimes I would like to be in the action and help them?
Montreal - Quebec/Canada, February 2006.