Saturday 21 April 2012

Get nature in order


South Africa has trusted itself very much into the environmental spotlight, being listed as among the top 20 carbon dioxide producing nations in the world (on the negative side) and by seemingly positive developments such as:
The United Nations Climate Change Conference that was hosted in Durban from 28 November to 9 December 2011, with the  imposing theme " WORKING TOGETHER Saving Tomorrow Today".
Under the National Climate Change Respoinse White Paper, Published in October 2011. This fairly impressive document is summarised in the obejctive:
“South Africa will build the climate resilience of the country, its economy and its people and manage the transition to a climate-resilient, equitable and internationally competitive lower-carbon economy and society in a manner that simultaneously addresses South Africa’s over-riding national priorities for sustainable development, job creation, improved public and environmental health, poverty ereadication, and social equitality. In nthis regards, South Africa Will:
  • Effectively manage inevitable climate change impacts through interventions that build and sustain South Africa’s social, economic and environmental resilience and emergency response capacity.
  • Make fair contribution to the global effort to stabilise GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that avoids dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system within a time frame that enables economic, and environmental development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
But the question reamains of how South Africa is going to achieve this very noble goals as set out above?
Major emitters have been named (not yet shamed), amongst which is ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) – it is being placed forth in South Africa with a figure of 10.73 million tonnes/year of CO being emitted (Carbon Disclosure Project – 2010). Examining the response of the Government to AMSA in the past, one could not help but to conclude that the “soft” approach to AMSA (and it’s often total disregard of the environment) was slightly tinted by the carrot of a ZAR 9.1 billion empowerment deal AMSA was dangling, that would have involved the “sale” of 26% of it’s shares to black investors – which coincidentally included the son of President Zuma. After AMSA announced the scrapping of the deal in September 2011, due mostly to the negative reaction the deal elicited – not least from ArcelorMittal shareholders – as it was not done in a transparent way (rather in the ArcelorMittal way!), can the public now expect AMSA to be held ccountable for it’s misdeeds?

Not only does AMSA produce vast amounts of CO 2, but also of CH4 -  Methane  - a greenhouse gas with  a warming potential over 100 years of 25X that of CO2 (Shindell, D.T.;Faluvegi, G; koch, D.M, Schmidt,G.A.;Unger, N; Bauer, S.E. ( 2009). " Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions". Science 326( 953):716-8)

One of the main sources of CH 4 production is from gas flaring  -  with 4 production is from gas flaring -  with 0.27 metric tonnes being produced per ton CO2 released from flaring, effectively increasing the effect of their emissions - when measured against direct CO2 being emitted -  considerably. In 2003 a company called EcoElectrica (a female empowerment group) started negotiations with ISCOR ( which later became ISPAT-ISCOR, when Mr. Laksami Mittal took it over, then Mittal Steel -  then finally ArcelorMittal) to develop a project generate electricity from the gas being flared in Vanderbijlpark. After working with EcoElectrica on the basis of a joint venture on the project duing 2006. ArcelorMittal eventually withdrew from the project and pursued it themselves -  leaving EcoElectrica the option of a legal balttle if they wanted to protect their rights. At the end of 2007( December) AMSA even filled a Project Design Document ( PDD) with the UNFCC for registration of a Clean Development Mechanism ( CDM) - project entitled:" ArcelorMittal South Africa Supuls Gas to Energy Project".

In 2008 AMSA filed a scoping report called “ENVIRONMENTAL SCOPING REPORT FOR THE INSTALLATION OF A POWER GENERATING PLANT USING EXCESS FURNACE BY-PRODUCT GASES, ARCELORMITTAL SOUTH AFRICA - VANDERBIJLPARK WORKS, VANDERBIJLPARK”. This plant is still to be completed and in a issue of Engineering News dated 29 July 2010 it quoted the CEO of Vanderbijlpark – Johan Fourie telling Engineering News that the group is still assessing the economics of the different power projects, "some big, others small", adding that not all the opportunities would necessarily prove viable. That is a look at but some of the gasses being directly released by AMSA into the atmosphere.

With cognisance of the “Waste Management Flagship Programme” contained in the Governmental White Paper, the solid waste being produced my AMSA also warrants a closer look. In 2009 AMSA produced 3.5 million tonnes of waste material at its Vanderbijlpark facility (ArcelorMittal South Africa Sustainability Report 2009). Although the plant has a capacity of 4.4 million tonnes of liquid steel (ArcelorMittal South Africa Sustainability Report 2009), it produces roughly about 3.5 million tonnes per year (Engineering News, & January 2008).This equates to 1 ton of waste for each ton of steel being produced. In a similar vein to the gas recycling project referred to above, a Brick making project was also proposed to Vanderbijpark in 2003. It went a few steps further, with the plant being constructed on the Vanderbijlpark site. It got a formal mention in the Sustainability Report, 2009 (quoted above). AMSA stated under the heading “Waste Reduction Projects” that Phase 1 of the clay brick project would reduce disposal through dumping by 150 000 ton per annum, and that phase 1 was to have been implemented in 2010 with “commercial negotiations in progress”. Solid waste being dumped on the open dumpsites at the Vanderbijpark plant could have been worked away through the manufacturing of clay bricks. The first dump site at the plant was closed in December 2010, holding about 140 million cubic meters of solid waste material – according to Karien Zantov – Environmental Manager for AMSA (quoted in Engineering News, July 2011). In addition this plant could also have used flared gas, and it could have used waste water from the steel plant.

All efforts to get this plant operational by the developing company has been frustrated by AMSA and they have apparently initiated a process to buy the plant and process out, but have been stalling the process since 2009 – whilst millions more tonnes of waste material have been dumped. Although this material does not directly contribute to any GHG emissions, it remains at risk to combust due to the high carbon content of some of the material being dumped. All the while though, it leaches materials such as iron, boron, manganese, magnesium, sodium, calcium and lithium (to name but a few elements) into the ground and into the Vaal River system. The local inhabitants around the plant has been for years trying to fight this, but has been stymied with AMSA’s financial might and “untouchable” tag (maybe as a result of the BEE deal referred to herein?). Lithium for example is known corrosive and requires special handling to avoid skin contact. Breathing lithium dust or lithium compounds (which are often alkaline) initially irritate the nose and throat, while higher exposure can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs, leading to pulmonary edema. The metal itself is a handling hazard because of the caustic hydroxide produced when it is in contact with moisture. Lithium is safely stored in non-reactive compounds such as naphtha. (Furr, A. K. (2000). CRC handbook of laboratory safety. Boca Raton: CRC Press. pp. 244–246.) The combined Lithium leachate of all the waste streams dumped at Vanderbijlpark is 4.2 parts per million, whilst for Manganese it is 1 458 parts per million. Wikipedia cites the following:

Manganese compounds are less toxic than those of other widespread metals such as nickel and copper.[42] However, exposure to manganese dusts and fumes should not exceed the ceiling value of 5 mg/m3 even for short periods because of its toxicity level.[43] Manganese poisoning has been linked to impaired motor skills and cognitive disorders.[44] The permanganate exhibits a higher toxicity than the manganese(II) compounds. The fatal dose is about 10 g, and several fatal intoxications have occurred. The strong oxidative effect leads to necrosis of the mucous membrane. For example, the esophagus is affected if the permanganate is swallowed. Only a limited amount is absorbed by the intestines, but this small amount shows severe effects on the kidneys and on the liver.[45][46] In 2005, a study suggested a possible link between manganese inhalation and central nervous system toxicity in rats.[47] It is hypothesized that long-term exposure to the naturally occurring manganese in shower water puts up to 8.7 million Americans at risk.[47][48][49] A form of neurodegeneration[50] similar to Parkinson's Disease called "manganism" has been linked to manganese exposure amongst miners and smelters since the early 19th century.[51] Allegations of inhalation-induced manganism have been made regarding the welding industry. Manganese exposure in United States is regulated by Occupational Safety and Health Administration.[52]According to results from a 2010 study,[53] higher levels of exposure to manganese in drinking water are associated with increased intellectual impairment and reduced intelligence quotients in school-age children.

Clinical toxicity Manganism has occurred in persons employed in the production or processing of manganese alloys, patients receiving total parenteral nutrition, workers exposed to manganese-containing fungicides such as maneb, and abusers of drugs such as methcathinone made with potassium permanganate. Excessive exposure may be confirmed by measurement of blood or urine manganese concentrations.[54] Chronic exposure to excessive Mn levels can lead to a variety of psychiatric and motor disturbances, termed manganism. Generally, exposure to ambient Mn air concentrations in excess of 5 μg Mn/m3 can lead to Mn-induced symptoms. Increased ferroportin protein expression in human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cells is associated with decreased intracellular Mn concentration and attenuated cytotoxicity, characterized by the reversal of Mn-reduced glutamate uptake and diminished lactate ehydrogenase (LDH) leakage.[55](End of Wikipedia quote) A study by the American Environment Protection Agency (EPA) called “Drinking Water Health Advisor for Manganese” dated January 2004 quote the under-mentioned study regarding the effects of manganese contamination through leaching into drinking water: A recently published case study (Woolf et al., 2002) reported increased manganese levels in the hair and blood of a 10-year-old child exposed to increased manganese in drinking water. The child had been ingesting drinking water supplied by a well for 5 years prior to a clinic visit for evaluation of over-exposure to manganese. In addition, the family lived in a house near a toxic waste dump. An evaluation of the well water performed four months prior to the child's health assessment indicated that manganese and iron levels in the water were both elevated, with concentrations of 1.21(reference level, 0.05 mg/L) and 15.7 mg/L, respectively.

The child's whole blood and serum manganese levels were 3.82 :g/100 ml (reference normal, <1.4 :g/100 ml) and 0.90 :g/100 ml (reference normal, <0.265 :g/100 ml), respectively. The child's hair manganese level was 3,091 ppb of washed, acid-digested hair (reference normal, <260 ppb hair). Although the child's 16-year-old brother did not exhibit elevated blood manganese, he did have increased manganese in his hair. The 10-year-old did not exhibit any clinical effects of manganese over-exposure (cogwheeling, abnormally high muscle tone, fixed facies, etc.) and had good balance with closed eyes, although he did have trouble coordinating rapid alternating motor movements(this deficiency is consistent with the test performance of occupational workers chronically exposed to airborne manganese). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the child's brain did not indicate any hyperintense signaling of the globus pallidus, basal ganglia, mid-brain or pons, which would indicate manganese deposition in these areas of the brain. Selective deposition of manganese in the globus pallidus and basal ganglia has been shown to occur in children and adults with chronic manganese overexposure (Devenyi et al., 1994; Hauser et al.1996). The absence of the signaling argues against manganese toxicity.  Results from a battery of neuropsychologic tests on the child indicated that global cognition was unimpaired.

While the plight of the residents around the Vanderbijlpark plant has been ignored in the past, it cannot be refuted that the leaching danger from the Vanderbijlpark dup-site and the continuation of the dumping practices of AMSA pose very real dangers. AMSA are one of the few remaining iron and steel producers worldwide that utilise open dumpsites for the disposal of their waste material. This gives them a massive cost of production advantage over their competitors that dispose of waste material to regulated dump sites (at a substantial price per ton of waste material). They clearly have proven solutions to some of their biggest environmental problems at hand, but chose not to employ these, as it is altogether too easy for them to continue with “business as usual” - as they are firstly allowed to do so, and secondly care more about making the extra profit, than spending it on a long-term strategy that will also benefit the rest of the people in South Africa, and the environment directly. Instead, as illustrated above, they choose to pay lipservice to their “commitment” to the environment. For South Africa – being squarely in the environmental spot-light at the moment – it is clearly a case of action speaking louder than words, and how the Government chose to act against companies like ArcelorMittal in the light of some of its practices illuminated herein will ultimately be how the Government will be judged in terms of its commitment to the environment in general.

Vaal River water resource management areas are under Threat

Vaal River System

Vaal River passing Vereeninging
The department of Water Affairs hosted the 6th strategy steering committee meeting for Integrated Water Resource Management. The meeting was held on the 19th April in Pretoria. Amongst other stakeholders Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance participated in the meeting represented by Samson Mokoena and Phenias Malapela.

This committee deals with different interventions within the Vaal River Systems,  and the strategies that are being implemented are as following:

  • Integrated Water Quality Management,
  • Water use compliance and  enforcement (eradication of illegal irrigation water use) in the Vaal River System,
  • Gauteng Municipalities Water Conservation and Water Demand Management,
  • The classification of significant water resources in the Upper, Middle and lower Vaal water management areas.
According to the Department of Water Affairs these are important interventions and they need to be implemented immediately because they course a significant threat to the security of water supply in the Vaal River System and they needs special attention,

For the first time we have seen DWA taking the issue of enforcement and compliance very seriously. The eradication of illegal irrigation has received a special attention from the Minister of Water Affairs, she has made it clear that the farmers that steals water from the Vaal river they will be dealt with harshly, she even took a special visit to one farmer and took out his irrigation pumps. We welcome these and it is shown from the reports that if the illegal irrigations are not dealt with accordingly the future of water supply in Gauteng will be compromised by these activities of illegal use.The are 8525 properties that are irrigating in the entire Vaal River System 1202 are unlawful users, 1361 verification completed, verification not started 3 927, validated completed 6900, validation in process 1894.

Irrigation's next to Vaal River
According to DWA,the must be regulations and measurements of taking water for irrigation purposes, but these regulations have not been published, and these has course the confusion within the farming community as who is the unlawful water users.  According to official within DWA these is delaying effective actions against partially unlawful water users the issue of addressing unlawful water users is receiving a high priority in the regional offices according to DWA.

The biggest problem that is facing the Vaal River System is the Water Quality in the Upper, Middle and Lower Vaal, these problems comes from different pollution sources such as untreated sewage from non-functioning municipal Waste Water Treatment Works, industrial effluents, Acid Mine Drainage and other activities that are happening within the Vaal River System. Department has received complains from communities and civil society groups complaining about the continuity of pollution within  Vaal River System that is causing health hazards.

If you think of people of Tumahole in Parys that do not have clean drinking water because of the pollution and the failer of local municipality to purify water for drinking purposes, and we have not seen the Minister of Water Affairs taking a strong stand against the municipalities that discharge the row sewage in the Vaal River System. The question is why DWA have not yet take a single approach in dealing with the threat in the Vaal System. In numerous occasions  the civil society has question DWA on the mining companies that are mushrooming with in the Vaal River System operating without Water Use licences, and municipalities that does not comply with the Water use licences and no actions has been takes against them,

From the DWA the issue of compliance and enforcement is receiving attention within regional offices and the Project Letsema has been well publish  but the numbers has not got out to civil society and concerned citizens. We hope that the minister will visit these mines and close them down and visit municipalities like Ngwathe in Northern Free State and deal with officials that do not care for the poor who are still struggling to get access to clean drinking water and sanitation because of pollution and Mal-administration within government.

Algae at Vaal Barrage
We hope that the Integrated Water Quality Management Strategy will receive the attention like Gauteng Municipalities Water Conservation and Demand Management Strategy and other strategies within DWA. we hope that we will get a report back from DWA on Letsema Project to fast track the issue of water use licenses so that all who contravene the low like the unlawful irrigation users can be punished. As Citizens also want our rights to be protected and our dignity be restored and we hope that the minister will treat water as a common not as a commodity that must be trade on for the one section of society at the expenses of the majority.

Friday 20 April 2012

Stealing our Tomorrow

People from Steel Valley

Iscor plant now called ArcelorMittal
Samson Mokoena is the Coordinator of Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, before he was the Chairperson of Steelvalley Crisis Committee. The committee was launched in May 2002 as a response to the groundwater and air pollution caused by ISCOR, one of the biggest steel mills on the African continent.  Samson is sharing with us how ArcelorMittal affected his family and other families lived in the area called Steel Valley. Steel Valley is situated South Johannesburg.
We are not sure whyy the area was called Steel Valley but what we know is that the people who were staying there where only whites who were working for ISCOR. Like other families, my father came to live in steel valley Linkholm area after the first democratic elections in 1994. My father was a construction worker at ISCOR. Because of a secure job, he received a loan from the bank to buy a small holding. For him, a dream was coming true. Not only was he able to continue with his farming skills that he received when growing up in the Free State. I recall my childhood, we had sufficient food from our farm plots and still additional income from cattle rising or chicken production.  

After a while we were joined by other black people in Steel Valley, forming a small location. Not knowing what is happening with water and why white people who were staying there before us moved out.  Animals started to die and many of us became sick. We could trace the root cause of al our problems to groundwater pollution. We discovered our water was polluted and many people started to complain about the water they drink. We also discovered that the source was from 10 big unlined evaporation dams inside ISCOR plant, from huge, 125 ha large uncovered slack dams as well as a cannel running from ISCOR steel mill through our farming area right into the Vaal River.

In 2000, ISCOR agreed to compensate about 400 property owners because of environmental pollution. Hundred and Fifty properties were left out of this offer. In 2004, my father decided to negotiate with ISCOR and other families. Iscor agreed to pay him as little as R165, 000 for a 2 ha plot and a spacious 4 room house. Loss of other properties, like several cows and poultry as well as health damage was not considered. Especially my mother suffers from sinus, itchy eyes and kidney failure.

It was sad to see a vibrant, colourful area slowly starting to 2004 die. In 2008 there were only 30 families left.  Other people took their entire pension fund and bought a small holding, that later discovered to mean nothing to them.  One of the people who took all her money is Rachel Bodibe. She got sick since she moved to the area. She lived in the area with her grandchild surrounded by electric fence put by ISCOR because she refused to accept the settlement. She did not have clean water and ISCOR refuse to negotiate with her about her sickness. At the age of 70 she was still fighting against one of the biggest company, later on she was then evicted.

Samson Mokoena entering ArcelorMittal offices in Luxenburg
Teboho Makume is also one of the people who were surrounded by electric fence after refusing the settlement. He is been staying in the area since 1994. He wanted be a farmer, he had 19 cows and in 2004 was only left with 6 cows because other died due to drinking polluted water. Like other families, Makume’s family suffers from ISCOR activities.  Because the whole family was sickly and farming was not possible any longer, Teboho’s father decided to leave the place with his wife and eight children. Unfortunately, their cows started to die, the dream of Makume’s family to Practice and earn a living from farming has been destroyed.  Iscor has offered them R65, 000 compensation for 1 and half ha plot and four bedroom house. However, this amount is not sufficient to buy another plot. Teboho is staying in a plot without drinking and cooking water. His father delivers about 20 litre of water every week. Like Rachel, Teboho is leaving a very lonely life with all neighbours gone and the community life wiped out. There are many people some of them lost more than 15 cows.   There are people who lived next the slack dams, died of kidney failure and cancer, there were people that could not stay outside because of the dust and air pollution from the slack dams, the family does not stay outside the house because of respiratory.
Iscor Destroyed our land and our heritage
When you visit area nowadays, you can hardly imagine that this used to be a vibrant community with small scale farms, shops, a filling station, a mobile clinic and other communal infrastructure. The area is dived by electric fences, public roads have been closed, people cannot easily move in the area. Only four families left now out of 500 house, steal refusing to sell their properties.
In 2008 a group called Global Action on ArcelorMittal was established. The group consist of organisation such as Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and other groups from Ohio(USA), Romania, India, Ukraine, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The purpose of this group is unite all people who across the globe who are affected by ArcelorMittal Activities. By sharing information with other group across the globe we have realised that ArcelorMittal success has largely been paid by the communities living and working near the company plants.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

November to December ( “WORKING TOGETHER Saving Tomorrow)

Communities writng down their demand for COP17 in Zamdela
VEJA Coordinator Samson Mokoena and other Comrades
It's been been almost 4 months now after the Climate Change Conference that was held on the 28 November - 9 December 2011 in Durban. The Conference of Parties was held under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change. The President of COP 17/CMP 7 was Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane our South African Minister of Foreign Affairs.The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) is an international environmental treaty that was produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (informally known as the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, June, 1992.
Climate change is considered to be one of the most serious threats to sustainable development, with the adverse impact expected on the environment, human health, food security, economical activities, natural resources and physical infrastructures. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the effects of climate change have already been observed, and scientific indicate that precautionary and prompt action is necessary
Many people in the communities still don’t know what climate change is and what are its causes and  impact. Vaal Triangle remains one of the polluted area in the Country. VEJA believes that is important to educate people about climate change since we have the biggest polluting company such as Sasol, Arcelormittal and Eskom that are putting more  greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Adding to this company we have problem of coal burning. Many people who can't afford to buy electrivity use coal for cooking and space heating. Coal is the world’s most carbon intensive fossil fuel, is anything but clean and doesn’t promote sustainable development. Just ask communities living within the vicinity of coal mines or power plants about the health problems they face due to the pollution. . People are made to believe polluting indistries brings jobs and grow because they lack knowledge. Most people are not happy with COP17 outcomes. COP17 was a waste of time and resources. It was seen  and called conference of polluters by many.  Sasol and Eskom were part of the negotiations, deciding on our future with out us. It has shown that government is only interested in protecting the interest of those who are putting profit first and greedy. 

Greenhouse gas Emission(Sasol Plant in Sasolburg)
What have done
1. Organised Community meeting
2. Youth session
3. Walk from Vaal Mall to Sasolburg
4. Participated in dirty energy week
5. Participated in people's space