ArcelorMittal endangers lives of Vaal residents

ArcelorMittal pleaded guilty to breaking environmental laws as indicated on their Atmospheric Emission License issued in 2012.

Africa’s biggest steel producer agreed to pay a fine of R3 630 000.00 to the Department of Environmental Affairs to be utilised for the supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of air quality monitoring instruments for Sedibeng District Municipality.

The Vanderbijlpark based steel producer made the guilty plea in a Vereeniging court on Tuesday.

Sedibeng District Municipality condemned the flagrant pollution which has life threatening consequences to residents of Vanderbijlpark.

“AMSA was issued with Atmospheric Emission License (AEL) on the 21/02/2012 in terms of the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act, 2009 (NEMAQA). All industries in South Africa are to comply with the conditions on their Atmospheric Emission License. It must be clearly remembered that one of our basic and fundamental rights is “that everyone has a right to have an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing”. However, Arcelor Mittal South Africa Limited did not abide and comply with its license conditions stating that the emission of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) may not exceed the minimum emission standard of 10mg/Nm3 posing immense health risks to the residents of Sedibeng. Furthermore, it unlawfully and intentionally conducted a listed activity without atmospheric emission licence,” said Savior Kgaswane of Sedibeng Municipality.

Kgaswane added: “ It is on this basis that Sedibeng District Municipality jointly with the national government moved swiftly against Arcelor Mittal for its contravention of its Atmospheric Emission License.”

AcerloMittal environmental manager Johan Hatting appeared before the Vanderbijlpark Regional Court on June 26 last year in response to the summons for violating the Air Quality Act.

Amsa was served with a summons instituting the criminal proceedings in May 2019.

Albi Modise, the spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), said the criminal investigation followed ongoing non-compliances detected at the Vanderbijlpark facility during an inspection undertaken by environmental management inspectors from the department and the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“Over the years the authorities have been monitoring compliance within the Ferro Alloy Iron and Steel sector. Three prior inspections had been undertaken at this facility – in November 2008, October 2012 and August 2014 – followed by a number of enforcement interventions.

“ArcelorMittal had been given sufficient opportunity since 2009 to effect the necessary changes required to ensure that its operations were being conducted in line with the legal requirements,” Modise said. Modise also said this facility was within the Vaal Triangle Airshed Priority Area.

“The area was declared a priority in 2006 and is one of three priority areas identified nationally in terms of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act due to concerns about elevated pollution,” said Modise.

Michelle Koyama, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), said the communities in and around the Amsa facilities in Vanderbijlpark had been experiencing negative impacts from Amsa’s pollution for a number of years. This was not only in relation to air, but also due to violations of water, waste and land pollution, Koyama said.

“The failure by the DEA to treat Amsa’s land, air, and water pollution issues as anything but urgent meant that the DEA is not fulfilling its legal duty to hold Amsa accountable for its violations of environmental law,” Koyama said.

The violations include operating certain facilities in Vanderbijlpark without the requisite Atmospheric Emission Licence (AEL) and for not complying with the AEL conditions.

Koyama said the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and groundWork, together with the CER had been requesting that the department take action against Amsa for a number of years – since DEA’s own investigation reports revealed that there had been non-compliance of its air emission licence, its water use licence and waste management licence.

“Amsa’s land was found to be contaminated and tar remnants were found in and around Amsa Vanderbijlpark’s operations,” Koyama said.

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