Crimes against communities: The tales corporates tell

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
Gaylord Nelson

For years polluting industries have poured poisonous toxic chemicals from incinerators into the environment. Communities living adjacent to these incinerators have largely been ignorant of their potential for harm. These industries have subjected people to contact with these poisonous toxins, without their consent and knowledge. It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that industries calculate. Communities are beginning to understand the risks that incinerators pose to their health and environment and have decided that enough is enough and that no more shall industries, which try to promote incinerators by hiding them behind new “labels”, pollute their air thereby affecting the lives of their children and environment.

It is a fact that as long as industries and polluting technologies continue to be placed in poor black communities, profits will always come before people. Currently, proposals are being pushed by giant industries for incinerators and have caused concern for civil society. Currently, Pretoria Portlands Cement (PPC) is proposing to incinerate tyres to replace some of their coal in its cement kilns. I was flabbergasted to hear that PPC stated that the disposal of tyres would contribute to road safety preventing them from being sold to unsuspecting vehicle owners as if this statement would detract society from the reality that the burning of tyres by PPC is a form of increasing profits by spending less on exploring cleaner fuel sources. This I feel is at the expense of the environment and communities despite the fact that PPC has recently reported a forty-five percent growth in net attributable profit to R600.3 million for the year to September. They also claimed that the burning of tyres would be environmentally friendly. However, it is a reality that internationally there has been a move away from incineration and that in test studies done in the United States and Europe, burning tyres in cement kilns has increased dioxin emissions by 36% while it has also increased the heavy metal emissions. groundWork has recently written a letter to the government requesting that a full Environmental Impact Assessment be conducted on alternatives for the disposal of tyres. Uses for used tyres include the reuse of rubber crumb in products such as rubber wheels, specialist surfaces such as running tracks, surface material for roads and playgrounds to name a few. It is hoped that the government will not allow such industries to pollute and explore cleaner alternatives to the burning of tyres.

Recently, local company NPC, which was recently sold off by PPC, is also proposing to fire their cement kiln at their Port Shepstone plant with alternative fuels. NPC invited me to visit their plant so that they could discuss with groundWork the nature of their project. Upon arrival, I was met by NPC representatives who gave me an informative presentation of their project. I was aware that they were engaging in information dissemination with the public and enquired about whether they were conducting an EIA. They stated that they had approached three consultants and were waiting for a response from them concerning finances. NPC had clearly stated that the current information dissemination would not form part of the EIA. What concerned me was that the scoping phase of the EIA would require public participation and that it did not make sense that information dissemination was being conducted and still an EIA would be done requiring public participation again, causing the current information dissemination conducted to be nullified. This makes me wonder whether or not an EIA will be conducted. I was also surprised that NPC had not as yet informed surrounding communities about their project since it is these people’s lives that would most be affected by health risks. It is time that corporates come out with transparency of information and stop posing in front of civil society as wolves dressed in sheep’s wool.

Another case of crimes against communities is the recent authorization by the government in granting Mondi Paper the go-ahead to construct an incinerator in Merebank, South Durban. This is despite opposition from the local community. In a meeting held in South Durban between the communities and Mondi, the community clearly stated to Mondi manager, John Barten that they did not want the incinerator in their neighbourhood. I was shocked that Mr Barten at the meeting had given a speech by introducing himself and stated how fit he was and what an athletic comrades runner and Duzi athlete he had become. His glorification of himself didn’t last very long after receiving a back lashing from the community telling him that he should try jogging in South Durban and experience the pain of lung burn and short breath being experienced by members of the community.

I was upset to hear that Mondi had stated that their project was consistent with Minister Valli Moosa’s Multi-Point plan to reduce air quality in South Durban. The authorization by the government for the incinerator undermines the national Ministry’s plans to improve air quality in this area. One of the objectives of the ‘Multi-Point Plan’ is to reduce the use of heavy fuel oils and coal in South Durban. However, the facility would see sulphur dioxide emissions decreasing by a minimal 5%, which will not contribute to any significant improvement to the already saturated pollution problems experienced in South Durban. Mondi’s statement that the project will result in a reduction in all emissions except carbon dioxide is untrue. In fact, nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions will increase by as much as 16.7%. They also have failed to disclose that carbon dioxide emissions would increase by nearly 50%. Hence, this is not just a ‘small volumetric increase in carbon dioxide’ as Mondi has stated. Hence, the government must revert its decision and follow the proper channels and allow a full EIA to be conducted.

It is time that corporates stop ‘toying’ with people’s lives by committing murder upon innocent victims through polluting their environments thus affecting their health. The role thus far that community, environmental groups and others have played in compelling such corporates to change their behaviour is an achievement, however, that most corporate environmentalists fail to recognise. It is hoped that through continued global community mobilisation that such attitudes will change over time causing corporates to switch to clean production technologies that will have a positive spin-off for all of us.

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