Thursday, 4 November 2010

Mozambique's toxic fume problem

17 km outside Mozambique's capital, Maputo, in the town of Matola, is the Mozal aluminium smelter, (in which BHP Billiton has a 47%). When the smelter opened, it was Mozambique's largest industrial investment ever and one of Africa's largest FDI events. The smelter is crucial to job creation and economic development.

In May, Mozal was granted permission to bypass fume treatment systems for six months in order to rebuild and upgrade their Fume Treatment Centres. In September, civil society groups challenged the decision in court, arguing that it had been made based on insufficient evidence and without sufficient public consultation. The cocktail of fumes to be released into the atmosphere will include chemicals that, in sufficient concentrations, can cause long-term health problems and death. Mozal claims the quantities of harmful gases emitted will not be sufficient to endanger health.

Mozambique's Environment Minister yesterday said that the company had provided (at the request of the ministry) an impact assessment and management plan. She also announced that, without the rebuild, there is "serious risk that these buildings will collapse, causing a human and environmental catastrophe". She argued that the smelter "could not be stopped while the FTCs were rebuilt, because aluminium production is continuous, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If the factory were to stop, the furnaces containing molten aluminium would solidify 'and Mozal would close its doors'".

Largest opposition party, Renamo, has denounced the decision and demanded that all activity and decisions in relation to this decision be halted pending a response from a judicial body (the Administrative Tribunal) to NGO demands that the fume release be stopped.

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