Communities unite against Cement Kilns
The first national civil society community exchange against cement kilns was held in Port Elizabeth in October
On Monday, October 27th, 25 community representatives from throughout South Africa1 met at the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro for the first national cement community exchange, hosted by groundWork, of people affected by cement operations nationally. The idea of bringing together communities faced with similar environmental problems is mainly for them to share and exchange information about their local struggles A key consideration, however, is also to build their ability to participate in democratic environmental governance with all key stakeholders including government, industry, labour and citizens.
The ultimate goal of this is to ensure that communities participate in and enjoy equal power relations and effective participation in decision making, towards sustainable development and environmental justice. Nelson Mandela Bay Metro was deliberately chosen as the ideal location to bring together communities because it is also the home of PPC New Brighton. This factory is bang in the middle of the New Brighton residential area and has long been a challenge for the community living on the fenceline. Annette Du Plessis from this community summarizes these universal community concerns affecting many communities around South Africa:
“I am a resident in the immediate PPC vicinity. Since living here over the past 20 years I increasingly began suffering more and more from chest problems. I am now a chronic asthma patient and am undergoing expensive medical treatment to be able to cope on a daily basis. I have witnessed people dying and suffering from chest complaints in the area, many of whom were children - young people - or in the prime of their life. I live in the flats directly opposite PPC - the buildings have black saturation markings all over. Plants and trees look wilted and pale and are struggling to survive in the area. How much more the suffering of the people? PPC’s pollution is of such a serious nature that I believe that PPC could be challenged constitutionally for
the suffering and discomfort that they cause”.
The trouble with cement kilns…
The cement industry in South Africa is regulated using the outdated Air Pollution Prevention Act of 1965 (APPA), which ironically endorses pollution rather than calling on the cement industry to manage their pollution to an acceptable standard. Under the APPA the cement industry is only regulated for dust or particulates. They are not regulated for sulphur, nitrogen or any cancer causing chemicals such as volatile organic compounds or persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins and furans or heavy metals such as mercury. The production of dioxins and furans from the cement industry is exacerbated when the industry seeks to burn hazardous waste, tyres and other waste products.
It is a commonly accepted by the DEAT and the consolidated cement industry that government has failed to adequately regulate, monitor and enforce the cement industry effectively. Presently, all of the cement industry permits include only dust emission standards, despite the fact that some of the kilns are already burning hazardous wastes such as sewage sludge and spent pot liners from the aluminum industry. The permission granted to the industry for burning this hazardous waste stream was given without public or local government consultation.
Community issues raised
The two day meeting began with delegates providing report-backs from their own communities with summaries on the efforts that they are taking to minimise the impact of cement dust pollution in their areas. Of great concern to delegates was the positive ROD which had already been granted to PPC Hercules in Pretoria to burn scrap tyres and hazardous waste, especially in light of the community opposition to this and previous assurances from PPC Hercules management that burning waste would not occur unless the community consented to it! In this regard delegates then agreed and signed the South African National Community Exchange Declaration petition calling on the GDACE to withdraw their record of decision for PPC Hercules Secondary Materials Co-Processing Program.
Furthermore, the Portfolio Committee Chair on Environmental Affairs and Tourism concluded the public participation process on The National Environmental Waste Management Bill by reassuring community and NGO representatives that no decision on incineration of waste in South Africa shall be undertaken without a prior review and approval by The Portfolio Committee Chair on Environmental Affairs and Tourism.
The Portfolio Committee Amendments to the National Environmental Management: Waste Bill [B 39— 2007]; CLAUSE 69 stipulates the following criteria: “(6) Any regulation which pertains to the treatment of waste by means of incineration must be submitted to the National Assembly 30 days prior to publication.”
While the Waste Bill is has yet to be assented to by the President of South Africa, the intention is clear and this ROD should not be considered until this process is dealt with. More generally, communities expressed concerns about uncontrolled emissions, dust and smoke affecting adjacent communities, which universally experience high asthma rates (in New Brighton some houses in the vicinity of PPC are called TB Huise due to the prevalence of TB and aggravation of the TB Sufferers from the cement dust).
Most delegates agreed that existing community concerns are currently too grave to even consider burning waste. The existing community concerns need to be addressed first and in light of poor public relations between communities and cement factory management they feel that these serious issues need to be addressed urgently. A question that was asked by a delegate was “what makes the industry believe that they can safely burn hazardous waste onsite if they cannot adequately deal with current community concerns around air emissions?”
Many delegates stated that they do not trust the industry and they also expressed a wish that the cement industry relocate away from their residential areas! These concerns are further highlighted in the context that the local authorities and departments of health do not have the will or capacity to address these community concerns – many delegates stated that the “Health Departments do not address concerns adequately – we have never had a meaningful assessment by the health authorities.”
Solidarity with the people who live near PPC New Brighton
Following the meeting delegates worked in solidarity with the residents of New Brighton in their resistance to the pollution from PPC’s New Brighton Plant. New Brighton folks have long complained of respiratory problems and eczema which they attribute to the PPC operations. The plant permanently bathes the community in fine cement dust.
A community meeting was arranged on Tuesday in Ferguson Road and attended by representatives from PPC and concerned community members. People were informed about the National community exchange and given an opportunity to raise their concerns.
Amongst these affected community members was Cricket CEO Gerald Majola’s mother who stays directly behind the PPC cement kiln. “Mrs. Majola is a house proud and extremely active octogenarian who takes exceptional pride in her garden. In July of this year a burst pipe on the PPC grounds released tons of water onto her property and killed all of her grass, vegetables and fruit trees that she has lovingly tended since moving into her home in 1963. PPC management has promised to look into and remedy the damage.”
The community awareness and growing resistance to the cement industry in South Africa has increased over the last year as community people become aware of
the fact that the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) is collaborating with the cement industry to allow for the burning of waste, including hazardous waste. This despite community people living next to these plants asking the DEAT and the Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism in the National Assembly to veto these proposals. Members of the communities living near cement kilns visited Parliament a year ago in, November 2007, and requested that this practice be vetoed.
1 Community people are from Port Shepstone, Mafikeng, Pretoria, Lichtenberg and the Western Cape where PPC, Afrisam, Lafarge and Natal Portland Cement
have their plants.
.. Dioxins and Furans are inadvertently created through combustion and industrial activities and are considered to be persistent, bio-accumulative toxic
compounds. Some are carcinogenic and are suspected to be neurological, developmental and reproductive toxicants or endocrine disruptors.
.. Mercury is classified as a persistent, bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemical. It can cause neurological and developmental problems, particularly in children