DEMONSTRATION AGAINST PROPOSED BURNING OF HAZARDOUS WASTE BY THE CEMENT INDUSTRY IN SOUTH AFRICA

7 September, 2005 - An international coalition of activists today launched the 4th Global Day of Action against Waste GDAW) citing the increasing health impacts of polluting waste disposal practices.

Coordinated by the Global Anti-Incineration Alliance (GAIA) [1], over 200 citizens from over 50 countries are participating today in what has become an annual day of protest against unsustainable and dangerous waste disposal systems with a resounding plea for innovative and ecological solutions that will address the growing volume and toxicity of discards.

Incinerators are linked to serious environmental health threats. Incineration alone is responsible for 69 percent of global emissions of the notorious pollutant dioxin, which is linked to cancer, immune system repression, reproductive system disorders, birth defects, and other health threats. Incineration is also a primary source of mercury releases as a result of medical waste incineration due to broken thermometers. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, which builds up in the environment - especially aquatic ecosystems- and affects the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. It is especially harmful to pregnant women and children.

Civil society in South Africa has been lobbying governments to consider alternative technologies instead of incineration. A campaign that is of special concern is the continent wide push by the cement industries to burn hazardous wastes in cement kilns (incinerators) in South Africa.

According to Llewellyn Leonard of groundWork, the South African government has sent out varied signals on their position on burning of hazardous wastes. On the one hand we find that KwaZulu-Natal government officials have requested a local cement industry to burn agricultural waste such as obsolete pesticides and herbicides. While on the other hand we have the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) holding workshops to establish national implementation plans for the management and strategies to clean up and prevent future accumulation of unwanted stocks of pesticides under the Africa stockpiles programme.

Leonard stated that, “Studies have shown that waste incinerators are cancer factories, generating hundreds of pollutant releases such as dioxins and heavy metals that cause a variety of health problems, including cancer, reproductive and developmental disorder, and immune system dysfunction. In fact, governments have agreed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) to work for the continuing minimization and ultimate elimination of dioxins and other POP-byproducts of incineration, so as to protect public health and the environment.”

According to Karen Read of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), “South Africa has signed and ratified the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) [2], which states that using incinerators and cement kilns to burn POPs waste or other halogenated wastes has the potential to generate and release large quantities of unintentional POPs such as dioxins and furans into the environment [3]. It is therefore flabbergasting that governments have considered using incineration to treat waste and not go to the source of the problem. The Stockholm Convention also gives preferential treatment for the use of non combustion-based approaches to the management of waste, including the disposal of stockpiles of hazardous waste.”

According to Zini Mokhine of Injiya, “While civil society welcomes government’s decision to ratify the Stockholm Convention on POPs, it is of serious concern that the South African government has considered using the cement industry to dispose of POP’s related waste.”

According to Claire Taylor of Earthlife Africa, “It is hoped that government will meet the obligations enshrined in the text of the Stockholm Convention and not go against this by allowing the burning of hazardous waste such as herbicides and pesticides in cement kilns and incinerators.”

According to Morgan Griffith of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) Eastern Cape, the South African government is failing to protect people’s health and the environment at large from harmful chemical assaults resulting from unsustainable and irresponsible practices such as incineration. Civil society calls on the South African government to put a stop to the use of dangerously polluting technology whose operations will virtually undermine the objectives of the POPS treaty.

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[1] GAIA is a worldwide alliance of over 500 non-profit organizations, research and policy advocacy institutions, citizen pressure groups and individuals from 77 countries who recognize that our planet's finite resources, fragile biosphere, and the health of people and other living beings are endangered by polluting and inefficient production practices and health-threatening disposal methods. Launched in December 2000 in South Africa, GAIA and its members are involved in local and regional battles against incinerators, as well as many dozens of projects to put Zero Waste principles and systems into action. Please log on to www.no-burn.org for more information about GAIA and its work. Contact for GAIA Secretariat (Gigie at +632-9290376 or 436 4733 - Philippines).

[2] The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs are chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms and are toxic to humans and wildlife. POPs circulate globally and can cause damage wherever they travel. In implementing the Convention, Governments will take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.

[3] Stockholm Convention document, Annex C, Unintentional Production, part 2: Source categories