Dundee accused of stockpiling arsenic at Tsumeb
24 November 2015, New Era
An international non-governmental organisation has accused Dundee Precious Metals of stockpiling arsenic, which they say was left over from the smelting of copper from Europe.
CEE Bankwatch Network fears that the stockpiling of arsenic could eventually contaminate the soil and water in the Tsumeb area where Dundee is based. Dundee yesterday said they would respond to the allegations at a later stage.
Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta yesterday said he is not aware of the allegations, but noted that his ministry is closely monitoring the situation.
“I recently visited the area with colleagues from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, as well as some engineers. So far we feel the negative impact (of smelting operations) has been mitigated,” Shifeta said.
He added that Dundee installed a monitoring system to measure hazardous materials, such as sulphuric acid in the air. “We will see within the next three months if the measures they have put in place are bearing fruit,” Shifeta remarked.
CEE Bankwatch Network accused the Tsumeb smelter of having a reputation of being among the few smelters in the world capable of processing ore that is abundant in arsenic, a toxic compound dangerous to human health if not managed properly.
“It was a practical choice for Dundee to ship ore from Chelopech (Bulgaria) to Africa, where environmental standards are more lax and refurbishment costs are lower,” claimed Bankwatch. “Back in 1988, the Bulgarian government had banned local facilities from processing the Chelopech ore, because they were not able to handle the high arsenic concentrations without environmental consequences.”
Bankwatch further explained that as a by-product of extracting arsenic from the ore, arsenic trioxide is produced and later sold by Dundee for the manufacturing of wood preservatives and herbicides.
“Since Europe and the USA have stopped using arsenic trioxide in the production of agriculture and wood treatment, Dundee sells arsenic to smaller markets in South Africa and Malaysia and stores the excess at a hazardous waste site on the town’s outskirts,” the NGO argues.
New Era reported in early August that Cabinet is keeping a close eye on Dundee’s operations through several monitoring measures and mechanisms to ensure that operations at Tsumeb are in line with accepted health, safety and environmental standards.
Cabinet also directed the agriculture ministry to continue with monitoring the water quality of boreholes and other water resources in and around Tsumeb. The management of the mine was also expected to submit a plan and budget for a hazardous waste disposal site for Cabinet’s consideration.
“Obviously, we don’t want to close them (the mine and smelter), because Tsumeb became a town due to that mine, but mining activities should not be carried out at the expense of our people,” said Tjekero Tweya, when he still served as deputy minister of trade and industry.
Since taking over operations at the copper mine and smelter, Dundee has been hard at work to complete a N$2.7 billion high-tech sulphuric acid plant due to be fully operational early in 2016. Once in full operation, it is said, the plant would help reduce toxic emissions from copper smelting.