Jul 05 2007

Coega’s Toxic Couds

14 June 2007

PRESS RELEASE FROM: protesters against Coega, including: Earthlife Africa, Nimble, The Zwartkops Trust, The Valley Bushveld Affected Parties, The Citrus Farmers, Concerned Members of the Public

While the rest of the world, including thousands of the world’s leading scientists, politicians and economists are scrambling to come up with solutions to what is potentially the biggest crisis we have ever faced in the shape of Global Warming, the Coega Development Corporation seems to know better than everyone else. Faced with increasing public concern and protest, the CDC has gone to great lengths in recent adverts in the local media to try to discredit the opponents of the Coega smelters and some of the other highly polluting and toxic industries the CDC is trying to attract, such as the ferro-manganese smelter, the oil refinery and the chlorine plant, and once again the CDC is doing its utmost to misinform the public (The Herald, 9th May, 2007).

Therefore we would like to take the opportunity to tell a different not quite as rosy side of the story. It will then be up to the public to decide whether they would like to believe the claims of the CDC or rather pay attention to the fact that communities all over the world, including those in Trinidad, India, Iceland and our very own Richard’s Bay are all complaining about the pollution and destruction caused by the aluminium smelters in their vicinity.

The people of Port Elizabeth need to ask themselves whether, in light of global warming, the pollution of our air and water and its effects on people’s health and in consideration of the billions of rand needed for the construction of new power plants, the provision of subsidies for the smelter, the job losses in other industries that can either not expand or exist due to the smelter’s proximity, are worth the 1.000 jobs created by Alcan, of which at least 300 will only be available to highly skilled professionals, no doubt many from overseas and whether there would not have been better, environmentally friendly and sustainable means to create jobs. In light of the fact that the cost of each job created at the smelter is estimated to run to about R5 million and considering the massive impact the smelters will have on our environment and the air we breathe, the answer to this should be easy.

We reject the condescending manner with which Mrs. Vuyelwa Qinga Vika, Head of Marketing and Communications at the CDC and others of the CDC are trying to make protesters appear. Those who have voiced their opposition against the smelters have been denounced as egotistical half-wits, who are more concerned about clean air than the plight of the poor; spewing �doomsday prophecies taken from the internet�; fools that cannot distinguish fact from fiction, silly enough to believe the reports by the world�s leading scientists and politicians on Global Warming.

It is easy to understand Mrs. Vika�s dislike of us and the fact that we are trying to inform the public about the truth � as it is the lack of information to the public thus far, which has enabled the CDC to execute their Environmental Impact Studies and other required processes without enough public awareness and involvement. In fact it is this very lack of information to and awareness of the public which is so startling and worrying.

The whole sorry saga of the Coega development in an environmentally highly sensitive, unsuitable area began with the highly controversial and corrupt R30 billion weapons deal, which brought us, as an offset deal, the Coega Industrial Development Zone. In their desperate effort to secure the ever elusive anchor tenant needed to justify the billions of Rand spent to date on Coega, the CDC and government have bent over backwards and are now giving, in addition to tax incentives, tax holidays and import/export duty exemptions, large subsidies and rock bottom prices for our water and electricity to the world�s most polluting and energy intensive industries. These currently include the Alcan Aluminium Smelter � a double sized smelter with two pot-lines, eight massive chimney stacks and an output of 720.000 tons of Aluminium per year, making it one of the world�s biggest aluminium smelters, which will use three times as much electricity as our entire city. The sheer size of the smelter boggles the mind � the entire area stretches over 120 ha of which 50 ha will be used for the actual plant.

As we all know, the capacity of our existing power stations is already strained to breaking-point, so new power stations will have to be built just to supply Alcan with the power it needs. This will entail either the building of yet another coal powered plant, with massive power grids snaking their way all the way through pristine country, including game farms, or the construction of a nuclear power plant on our doorstep – at additional costs to our environment and to the tax payers pockets. Make no mistake – it will not be Alcan who has to pay for the new infrastructure but the South African taxpayer.

To address SA�s power shortages, Eskom will spend R150 billion over the next five years and South Africans will be the ones footing the bill, according to Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga. A price hike to the tune of 18 per cent has been mooted – all this in a country where a large percentage of our population has either got no excess to electricity or cannot afford it.

Alcan, however, will receive our electricity for a price far below anything that any of us or other industries are paying. Another question that needs to be answered is, who, in times of power shortages will have preference � the smelter or the South African people?

This, of course, is only part of the problem. The Coega IDZ is located in an environmentally highly sensitive and unique area. It has 6 biomes and is situated right next to the Addo National Elephant Park, close to various game and citrus farms, and not only extremely close to the city of Port Elizabeth, but also right next to one of our biggest townships, Motherwell.

The health implications for all are enormous, no matter what the CDC would have us believe. Toxic emissions into air and our water, include fluoride, sulphur dioxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases and others � all of which have severe impacts, such as respiratory diseases, cancers, Alzheimers disease, brittle bone diseases, smog and acid rain.

Despite the latest findings by leading scientists, that establish a clear link between the exposure to fluoride and lung and bladder cancers in smelter workers, and despite health warnings Alcoa sent out to 3000 of its workers worldwide the CDC stoically continues to deny that there could be any problems. Its repeated claims are a clear indication of the way the South African public is being purposefully misled.

�Fluoride occurs naturally in the environment� and �there are no problems in Richard�s Bay, so why should we believe that there will be any here?� are some of their favourite war cries. Whether or not Fluoride or any of the other toxic substances occur naturally in the environment or not is entirely beside the point � exposure to large amounts of any of them can and will have disastrous consequences.

As for the claims that �all is well in Richard�s Bay�: various environmental organisations, including the Richard�s Bay Clean Air Association and Groundwork most certainly differ with this point of view. Richard�s Bay�s residents are exposed to smog and pollution on a daily basis, with aluminium smelters being the prime suspects.

And let�s not forget the issue of global warming � 1,8tons of Carbon dioxide is produced for every ton of Aluminium. That means that Aluminium smelters produce almost double the amount of CO2 as actual Aluminium. This figure alone should be enough to warrant a resounding �No� to the whole issue of aluminium smelters � which would only create 1000 permanent jobs, mostly to skilled and highly-skilled workers.

Another worrying factor is the fact that the issue of what will happen to the waste produced by the smelter has still not been clarified. The spent pot linings (spl) for example is hazardous waste and needs to be stored in sealed water-proof containers. We would like to know where exactly these will be stored and how it will be guaranteed that there will be no leakages and seeping of toxins into our water?There are also serious concerns about the dust of the raw material, which without doubt will be easily spread by the wind. How does Alcan/the CDC plan to protect us form this?

Various community activists and environmentalists have presented suggestions and plans for environmentally friendly alternatives, which include a multifaceted approach that combines agriculture, marine-culture, eco-tourism and the massive expansion of infrastructure � however, these seem to have been ignored and now we are facing an onslaught from some of the world�s most toxic and polluting industries, who are known to target developing nations in their search for cheap labour and electricity.

We would like to remind the CDC, the South African government and the general public that S 24 (1) of our Constitution guarantees that �everyone has the right a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and b) to have the environment protected�� Future generations need to be considered when making decisions that effect our environment. No one with a child or grandchild should therefore make the mistake to think that environmental issues, especially those pertaining to Coega do not concern them. To borrow a quote from Edmund Burke:”Nobody made a greater mistake, than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

We sincerely hope that the South African government will have a change of heart and reconsider the impact the proposed Coega smelters will have on the South Africa�s environment and therefore its citizens and follow the rest of the world in trying to find an environmentally friendly and sustainable path to job creation. The South African public on the other hand needs to become more informed, involved and concerned, otherwise it will not be �the cloud of poverty making it impossible to think� as Mrs. Vika put it in her article in the Herald, but a cloud of an entirely different – more toxic � nature altogether.