Dundee denies chemical poison claims
19 January 2016, Namibian Sun
Dundee Precious Metals (DPM) says the international environment watchdog CEE Bankwatch is making false and misleading claims about exposure to arsenic as alleged by the town’s people.
DPM argues that Bankwatch’s claims are not supported by the regular health surveys conducted in Tsumeb under the supervision of the Namibian government and independent medical specialists.
Bankwatch said in a statement issued on December 22, 2015 that information available to it “shows that arsenic levels have been way above safe limits defined by health institutions.”
It quoted a preliminary report of surveys conducted by the government between 2011 and 2013 which stated that “recent urinary arsenic concentrations confirm widespread over-exposure at the (smelting) plant”.
DPM says the allegations made by Bankwatch contain “widely generic, out of date and out of context statements and references” regarding the levels of exposure to arsenic among the smelter workforce and the Tsumeb community.
“Here are the facts,” stated Alina Garises, DPM’s public relations superintendent in Tsumeb. “Government testing in 2011 showed verifiably unacceptable levels of occupational arsenic exposure only in neglected operational parts of the smelter, areas of the smelter that have since been upgraded by Dundee’s capital and environmental health improvement programmes.”
Garises said despite all of this, Bankwatch “inexplicably” refused to acknowledge the findings of the comprehensive health survey of 1 700 current and former smelter workers ordered by the Namibian government in 2013.
“This study remains the largest occupational health study of its type in Southern Africa and was conducted by independent institutions and expert personnel who are eminently more qualified in these matters than Bankwatch activists,” Garises said.
She said the study concluded that arsenic health effects are “not significant, not widespread and, most importantly, that no illness and/or deaths are due to arsenic from the smelter.”
She said the government-sponsored study made a number of non-arsenic related recommendations to Dundee which have since been implemented.
“DPM has always acknowledged that arsenic requires careful handling to ensure safety and security and environmental health. When DPM purchased the smelter in 2010 we knew we faced many challenges and since then we have committed nearly half a billion US dollars in improving environmental controls, worker health and safety and community protection including improved arsenic handling and a sulphuric acid plant to reduce SO2 (sulphur dioxide) emissions that have plagued the community for over 50 years,” Gariseb said.
She went on to say: “We deal with facts, not speculation, and rely on independently verifiable science to determine our approaches. Community and workforce arsenic (exposure) levels are within national legal limits. The long-term effects of the smelter on worker and community health have been independently established to be negligible.”