Global Alliance Urges Mbeki to Junk Proposed Sasolburg incinerator, over a hundred groups from 45 countries petition the government to go for safer alternatives.

Manila/Pietermaritzburg, 09 May 2002 -– More than a hundred environmental and civil society groups belonging to a growing global movement against waste incineration today sent an urgent appeal to President Thabo Mbeki to reject the proposed incinerator in Sasolburg for stockpiled hazardous wastes, stressing that the proposal runs counter to the aims of an international

The groups, most of which are members of the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA) and the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), warned that incineration generates toxic by-products, among them the ultra-toxic dioxins and furans which have been linked to extensive health problems including cancer, birth defects, reproductive disorders and the suppression of the immune system which could accelerate the inception of full blown AIDS in people already suffering from HIV infection.

Dioxins and furans belong to the list of substances being targeted for elimination by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). South Africa is a signatory to the Convention that was adopted by more than a hundred countries in Stockholm last year.

“We find it alarming to learn that your government is considering the use of a dangerously polluting technology whose operation will virtually undermine the objectives of the POPs treaty,” the environmental and civil society groups told President Mbeki.

“Studies reveal that burning hazardous waste, even in "sophisticated state of the art" incinerators, will lead to the release of three types of lethal waste into the environment: heavy metals, unburned noxious chemicals and new toxic pollutants such as dioxins and furans.All of these aredispersed into the environment in the form of air pollution or toxic fly ash, having potentially fatal affects onthehealth of the exposed population. These pollutants will represent an added toxic burden to the citizens of Sasolburg who are already being heavily-impacted by the smog and air pollution caused by the local oil refinery and various chemical industries in the town,” the groups added.

The groups also pointed out that these toxic pollutants travel vast distances and accumulate in the food chain. Their environmental and health effects may therefore extend well beyond Sasolburg and the whole of South Africa and even to neighbouring African states.

They also warned that the approval of the incinerator proposal, aggressively being pushed by the Peacock Bay Environmental Services Pty Ltd, would send a negative signal that could damage South Africa’s image before the international environmental community, particularly in the light of the upcoming World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The global petition, endorsed by 109 environmental and civil society groups from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Americas, appealed to the South African government to opt for alternative, non-combustion destruction technologies instead which do not generate POPs, in keeping with the pollution elimination objectives of the POPs treaty. Other countries like the Philippines and Slovakia are in the process of implementing such projects to utilize alternative non-combustion technologies to destroy problem POPs stockpiles within their borders.

Speaking on behalf of the Sasolburg Environmental Committee (SEC), Nicholas Kasa welcomed the initiative by the global NGO community. “Their letter to Pres. Mbeki reinforces our legitimate opposition versus the PBES incinerator project. We are not alone in defending our constitutional right to a safe and healthy environment,” he said.

The anti-incinerator petition concluded that by rejecting the Sasolburg incinerator and adopting non-burn alternatives, South Africa would be setting a positive example for the African continent and the world as regards the proper treatment and disposal of hazardous waste. They added that such a decision would validate the choice of South Africa as venue for the upcoming Earth Summit.

For her part, Linda Ambler of the environmental justice group groundWork said that “the proposed incinerator will be the largest hazardous waste incinerator in the country and opens opportunities for hazardous waste to be imported into South Africa from other countries for burning in Sasolburg. Since we first heard about the proposal we have been in continuous contact with the various decision makers pleading with them to oppose the project in favour of alternative technology which would not demand such high a cost to human health and the environment."

The letter to Pres. Mbeki was initiated after a visit to South Africa and Sasolburg by Manny Calonzo of the by the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA), an international NGO coalition with offices in the Philippines and USA, and supported by other networks working for a sustainable future. During the South Africa visit Manny Calonzo met with local community activists and attended a hearing by the Free State Portfolio Committee on Environment on the proposed incinerator.

For inquiry, please contact Linda Ambler at groundWork in South Africa (phone: +2733-3425662; e-mail: linda@groundwork.org.za) or Manny C. Calonzo at the GAIA Secretariat in the Philippines (phone: +632-9290376; manny.gaia@no-burn.org).