An aluminium plant currently being built in the northern Czech Republic will produce considerable more toxic pollution than the plant’s backers claim, according to a report commissioned by the CEE Bankwatch Network. In probably its most damning statement, the report – an independent analysis of the plant’s documentation – calls existing data on the toxic pollution likely to be created “vague and worthless.”

Based on the report’s findings – which show that Mexican company NEMAK underestimated the number and amount of cancer-causing substances likely to be produced – Bankwatch is calling on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) not to finance further construction.

“NEMAK seriously underestimates the plant’s toxic pollution, and has not listed any measures for reducing toxic pollution. We are calling on the EBRD to refuse to fund such a project without guarantees that people living nearby will be protected,” says Pavel Pribyl of Bankwatch’s Czech member group Hnuti DUHA.

The report was written by an independent expert who analysed documentation provided by NEMAK, including the plant’s environmental impact assessment and construction permit. It shows that the potential toxicity of the solid and liquid wastes and of toxic gas emissions were not properly assessed during the project preparation phase. In its conclusion, the report finds that from the “documentation provided, the environmental risks of the plan can only be assessed roughly”. Furthermore, the report goes on, “the number of other inconsistencies indicates that the authors did not have any expertise on waste management and that the assessment of this field was made by lay people”.

In particular, NEMAK ignored the fact that the melting of aluminium will quite surely be accompanied by the production of dangerous polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans, as well as a number of polyaromatic hydrocarbons. The project documentation fails to mention the first two, and from the third group mentions only one – benzo(a)pyren. Short-exposure to higher level of dioxins can cause skin disease and harm the functioning of the liver. Long-term exposure harms the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems and can lead to cancer or cause male infertility. Also, although today’s technologies make it possible to decrease harmful emissions to very low levels, the background data provided by NEMAK contains no mention of such measures.

Similarly, the project documentation is silent about other, probably more serious, environmental risks. For one, it fails to mention certain toxic wastes that will be created in high volumes, including dust from combustion exhaust cleaning and sawdust and filings polluted with cooling emulsion. Neither is there any mention of which substances will be present in the contaminated wastewater, nor does NEMAK say how it will handle such wastes.

In writing to the EBRD, Bankwatch enclosed an English-language summary of the report. Says Pribyl, “We are convinced that the construction should be stopped until it can be proven that the health of people living near the plant will not be endangered by toxic substances. We hope that the EBRD will read the summary of the analysis carefully, and will take the project’s environmental risks into account when considering financing.”

The Mexican company, NEMAK Europe ltd., has already built part of the factory, which when completed would have an annual production of 1,600,000 aluminium engine heads. It is seeking loans from the EBRD to complete the project. The project has a long and checked history in the Czech Republic; an earlier proposal to build the factory in Pilsen failed in the face of community opposition, and the current site near the city of Most would destroy one of the few unpolluted areas in a heavily polluted region of the country.

The CEE Bankwatch Network is a coalition of environmental organisations from Central and Eastern Europe. The network’s mission is to prevent environmentally and socially harmful impacts of international development finance, and to promote alternative solutions and public participation. Note: The English summary of deficiencies in the area of environmental risk assessment, based on a document analysis of the NEMAK project elaborated for Hnuti DUHA and CEE Bankwatch Network by Dr. Vlastimil Simek, ChemEko, in January 2003, is available upon request.