DEAT allows Hillside Aluminum to Pollute Residents

05 October 2004 - The Department of environmental affairs and tourism has once again condoned an industrial crime to be committed against communities. This time they are allowing the Richards Bay smelter, Hillside Aluminum, to release harmful chemicals into the air.

In a public notice released by the company, they advise that "asthmatics and others with respiratory problems, who have a low tolerance to smoke and dust, to remain indoors". The company is planning a 72 hour bypass of their Fume Treatment Centre (FMT) One to affect repairs on the 5th October 2004.

This situation is unacceptable to Richards Bay communities who are increasingly bearing the health and environmental costs of polluting industries. Mr Skosana, spokesperson for environmental justice group Vuka Environment Dot Com, based in Richards Bay, is angered by the action or rather non action of the Department: "by allowing Hillside to go ahead with this bypass operation without proper consultation, without putting in place emergency plans and without forcing Hillside to look at alternative, less harmful ways of continuing their operations is a breach of one of the fundamental principles of our democracy - environmental justice."

A view supported by Richards Bay Ratepayers Association spokesperson, Sandy Camminga. in a letter addressed to Hillside " at no point during any of Hillside's EIA processes was the issue of bypasses ever made known to the public. I understand that, this time, unforeseen circumstances come into play, however, those very unforeseen circumstances should have been identified and made public during those EIA processes as "worst case scenarios". To the best of my knowledge, the public was never informed that they would be subjected to uncontrolled emissions from Hillside. Hillside has been allowed to develop, and expand, on the community's doorstep and the associated risks were never made public. Hillside's notification of bypasses does not in any way make them acceptable nor does compliance with their permit. Foskor complied in June 2002, despite having gassed 249 people."

Ardiel Soeker spokesperson for groundWork, an environmental justice advocacy group supporting communities living next to polluting industries, believes that the Departments non-action reflects a lack of will to hold big polluters accountable. "The new air quality bill stands no chance of being effective if the lead agent for implementing the bill is too scared to confront the major industrial polluters. Communities like the Richards Bay community have fought a long and tiring battle to ensure that our Government enacts environmental legislation that is protective of peoples health. It seems that this battle will be nothing in comparison with what needs to be done to get our highly paid officials off their butts and on the job."

According to groundWork, an alternative that should have been considered was a complete shut down of the Hillside plant to affect the necessary repairs. "It seems that the company with the blessing of the Department has put profit before the protection of the community's health and well being".

For more comment contact:

Edmund Skosana: spokesperson for Vuka Environment Dot Com: 082 357 7870
Ardiel Soeker: spokesperson for groundWork: 082 940 8669
Sandy Camminga: spokesperson for Richards Bay Ratepayers Association: 035 786 0076

Ferrial Adam
Research, Media and Corporate Accountability
groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa
P.O. Box 2375, Pietermaritzburg, 3200, South Africa
Tel: +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Fax: +27 (0) 33 342 5665
Cell: +27 (0) 84 484 3387
E-mail: ferrial@groundwork.org.za