Cement Kilns: South Africa’s New Hazardous Waste Dump Sites

29 March 2006 - As South Africa gears up for the building boom in preparation for 2010, industry and government are proposing to dump South Africa’s growing hazardous waste production in the cement kilns which will produce the cement to construct the stadiums and sport villages for 2010. Holcim, Pretoria Portland Cement and Natal Portland Cement are all considering such proposals with the consent of provincial governments in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo Province, Northern Cape, North West Province and Western Cape.

Since 2002, groundWork[1] and Earthlife Africa [2] has repeatedly written to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) to raise concerns about the burning of waste, including tyres, in cement kilns. To date, no substantive response has been received. Civil society has called on government to develop policy that would guide the destruction of hazardous waste within South Africa. Government failed to respond to this call and, as a result, the cement industry is using this loop-hole to term what is really hazardous waste “alternative fuel” [3] to run their cement furnaces.

Due to this lack of guidance by the DEAT, provincial governments who are responsible for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) have faced a barrage of applications from cement companies to burn hazardous waste. As a result of a lack of guiding policy, provinces are responding differently to these proposals, and this could result in certain provinces attracting hazardous waste into their areas.

South Africa is signatory to the Stockholm Convention [4], which governs the process towards eliminating the production of dioxins and associated persistent organic pollutants. The Stockholm Convention identifies cement kilns firing hazardous waste as one of the source categories that have the potential for high formation and release of dioxins.

The burning of hazardous waste could possibly start as early as Monday, 3 April in the Holcim Cement Kiln in Ulco just outside Kimberley. The Northern Cape government gave permission for the plant to burn hazardous waste on the 2 March 2006. This was despite the fact that the North West Provincial government refused permission for Holcim to do undertake a similar venture in November 2005. [5]

In a letter to the Deputy Minister on Friday, 24 March 2006, groundWork, together with the support of other civil society organizations [6], called on the Deputy Minister to:

“Allowing the burning of hazardous waste without there being a robust and transparent public debate on the best mechanisms for managing and destroying hazardous waste, will result in the increase of hazardous waste production as well as the possible import of hazardous waste into South Africa”, cautions Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork.

“It is also clear that the destruction of potentially valuable resources for local economic development, poverty alleviation and job creation is contrary to the letter, intent and spirit of both the term ‘Sustainable Development’ and our National Environmental Management Act”, said Muna Lakhani of Earthlife Africa eThekwini. “Attempting to replace coal with waste that will release pollutants of higher toxicity is backward looking. Many sustainable alternative options exist.”

End

For more information call:

Bobby Peek – groundWork: 033 342 5662 / 082 464 1383

Muna Lakhani - ELA eThekwini 083 471 7276 muna@iafrica.com

Footnotes:

[1] groundWork is an environmental justice organisation working focusing on air pollution, waste and corporate abuse and works with community organisations living adjacent to petro-chemical and waste facilities nationally (www.groundwork.org.za)

[2] Earthlife Africa (ELA) is a membership driven organization of environmental and social justice activists, founded to mobilize civil society around environmental issues in relation to people. ELA Johannesburg (Jhb) branch was established in August 1988 as the first branch of the organization, which grew to many branches in the early nineties and is currently concentrated in three branches in South Africa and one in Namibia (www.earthlife.org.za)

[3] The cement companies blur this issue by indicating that they want to use “alternative fuels”. Hazardous waste is not an alternative fuel. It is simply hazardous waste.

[4] 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. In implementing the Convention, Governments will take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.

[5] See Press Release dated 23 November 2005 here.

[6]Thabang Ngcozela Environmental Monitoring Group thabang@emg.org.za