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Shell’s toxic legacy, Curaçao

The pollution by the Isla refinery on Curaçao has been a problem for many years. Curaçaoans living downwind of the refinery experience many health issues on account of its toxic emissions.


Curaçao is a Caribbean island, it is located about 65 km north of the Venezuelan coast in South America, it is an ex colony of the Kingdom of the Netherlands until it became independent (within the Kingdom) in 2010. The island is worldwide recognized for been one of the main hotspots for tourism (beautiful landscapes, beaches and other tourism amenities). However, and according with Pulster (2015) the island rank in the top 10 environmental polluted sites due to the emissions of the hundred years old oil-refinery: the Isla.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Shell’s toxic legacy, Curaçao
State or province:Willemstad
Location of conflict:Willemstad
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Oil and gas refining
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Industrial waste
Heavy metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

-There is apparently 2 million tonnes of toxic material (asbestos, heavy metals etc) in a lake of asphalt within an area of 52 hectares.

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Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:1985
Company names or state enterprises:Guangdong Zhenrong Energy from China
PDVSA from Venezuela
Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) from Netherlands
Relevant government actors:The kingdom of the Netherlands, Government of Curacao; Minister of Health and Environment; Coordination Center Expertise Working Conditions and Health (CEAG).
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Ejos: Institution Clean Environment On Curaçao (Stichting SMOC);
Supporters: Friends of the Earth International
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Demanding a clean-up;
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Oil spills
Other Environmental impactsSpecific impacts to the sea and marine ecosystems.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsEvery year at least eighteen people die from the pollution.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Displacement
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of alternatives:Demand of a clean-up
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Shell Company has not take responsibility of their environmental and health damages in Curaçao. This is a typical case of toxic imperialism. Currently, 18 people died due to the toxic pollution every year, they have not received any compensation and despite this, the project is ongoing.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Industrial pollution and human rights: A case study of the Isla refinery on Curaçao
[click to view]

Pulster, Erin L., "Assessment of Public Health Risks Associated with Petrochemical Emissions Surrounding an Oil Refinery" (2015). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Shell Toxic Contamination In Curacao
[click to view]

[click to view]

The Infamous Isla Refinery of Curaçao
[click to view]

Caribbean island Curacao faces oil refinery dilemma
[click to view]

Shell’s toxic legacy in Curacao
[click to view]

Shell ‘apologises’ for worldwide damage in “erratum” to annual report
[click to view]

SMOC: "Close down Isla-refinery until they comply with permit"
[click to view]

[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Stichting Smoc group
[click to view]

Zembla: Poisoned paradise
[click to view]

Refineria Isla Curaçao B.V.
[click to view]

Other documents

La Isla Refinery
[click to view]

La Isla Refinery
[click to view]

stichting SMOC
[click to view]

Other comments:"The air is contaminated and there's a terrible smell of sulphur," says Edgar Leito who set up a campaign group to protest against the continued use of the refinery.
"There where no rules for Shell with the toxic materials" Edgar Leito
Meta information
Contributor:Grettel Navas (ENVJustice Project)
Last update04/12/2017
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