Dundee brushes off poisoning claims
25 November 2015, Namibian Sun
The Tsumeb-based mining company responded yesterday to questions sent by Namibian Sun on Monday, following an article that was published by international non-government (NGO) group BankWatch which claimed that the waste disposal site at the Tsumeb Smelter is piling up with arsenic left from the smelting of European ore – sparking fears of soil and water contamination.
DPM spokesperson Alina Garises says BankWatch has a long history of being against mining of any sort.
“We find it very regrettable that our accomplishments were ignored by a European NGO, in favour of a distorted and inaccurate view of our operations in Namibia,” Garises said
According to her the article is misleading and inaccurate in several respects, including the environmental controls at the smelter, the impact on the community, the projected lifespan of its licensed waste disposal site and the results of the 2012 health study that was conducted by the Namibian government into its operations.
She said the disposal site at the smelter, for example, is not “near capacity”, as the article suggests, but has sufficient capacity through to 2025.
Garises said it is also suggested that concentrate from DPM’s mine in Chelopech is “banned in Bulgaria”, when the fact is it could be processed there if the country had a smelter as technologically advanced as the one in Tsumeb.
According to her many other countries manufacture and export products containing arsenic for use all over the world in different industries, and Namibia is no different.
“We take a by-product, which is not toxic waste as is claimed in the article, from smelted concentrate and convert it into a useful product. Residual product is then simply stored in a licensed waste facility, built to handle potentially hazardous chemicals,” said Garises.
She said the arsenic by-product is transferred from the processing plant to the waste disposal site in re-used bags is purchased from a local sugar company.
“We recycle and re-used these empty bags. The bags are kept wet to prevent any airborne dust and they are subsequently compacted and buried at our waste disposal site.”
According to her, the site is licensed by the government, regularly inspected and is similar to other disposal sites around the world.
The waste site has a state-of-the-art air quality monitoring station that is 10 metres from the edge of the facility and which is independently monitored and accessed to ascertain if there are any emissions from the facility towards Tsumeb, Garises said.
This data is available for public review and is also provided to the government.
The facility also has a number of boreholes around the site to monitor water quality in a similarly transparent fashion.
Garises said contrary to claims made by BankWatch, the 2012 independent health study into the smelter did not conclude that it was negatively affecting the health of employees and the community.
“In other words there have been and are currently no significant health impacts from the smelter on workers and community members.”
With regard to claims about the elevated levels of arsenic in the local population, Garises said independent government health studies have tested the urine of over 1 700 locals and found no unexpected elevations.
“Community exposure to arsenic is measured by independent technical parties and is consistently within international guidelines. Community and worker health is also independently monitored by the Namibian government.”
According to Garises when DPM acquired the smelter in 2010, it knew that the environmental control measures would require major improvement.
Part of the improvements was to develop a proper waste management facility, improve the arsenic handling within the processing plant and implement environmental monitoring throughout Tsumeb.
These results are available to the community.
DPM has also commissioned a state-of-the-art sulphuric acid plant, which will significantly reduce the sulphur dioxide emissions that have plagued Tsumeb since the smelter was opened about 50 years ago.
Within five years DPM has spent close to N$5 billion to improve the local environment and reduce emissions of arsenic and sulphur dioxide.
DPM provides support to Tsumeb through its community trust and provides stable and secure employment for hundreds of people, said Garises.