Battling industrial pollution in Mozambique
Friends of the Earth Mozambique / Environmental Justice are fighting one of the country's most powerful businesses, an aluminium producer, which has been granted permission to pollute the air for six months.
Mozal the company that owns the Aliminium smelter, one of the largest in the world, is refurbishing its smoke and gas treatment centres (filters) and have asked the government for the right to carry on production without these treatment centres in place.
Environmental groups in Mozambique, including Environmental Justice (JA!), have said that the unfiltered fumes being pumped out of the smelter will affect towns and villages within 40-100 kilometres from the source causing a serious risk to public health.
According to JA! the unfiltered substances being released from the smelter can cause severe irritation to the skin, eyes, airways and an increased risk of lung cancer.
JA! and other environmental groups in the Mozambique are lobbying the government and Mozal for there to be a public debate on the serious issue.
To date there has not been an Environmental Impact Assessment and therefore it's unclear to everyone what the impact will be of operating without filters. However, JA! can only conclude that the filters, when in place, significantly reduce air pollution or Mozal would not be investing $10 million in their renovation.
In addition, JA! have looked at a similar case, from October 2004, at a smelter in South Africa owned by Mozal's parent company BHP Billiton.
In that instance the filters were put out of service for only 72 hours and the company issue issued a press release calling for "people with asthma and others with respiratory problems, or who have low tolerance for smoke and dust, to remain indoors".
Now BHP Billiton are claiming that they can perform the same operation for six months without any significant risk. This makes JA! question the difference of criteria and behaviour of BHP Billiton in South Africa and Mozambique.
JA! have collected more than 14,000 signatures calling for a public debate on the renovation project which is scheduled to go ahead in November 2010.