Government to develop mitigation strategies at Tsumeb smelter

17 Sep 2014 11:50am
WINDHOEK, 17 SEP (NAMPA) – Government says there is no need to close the Namibia Custom Smelters (NCS) down, despite various health problems experienced there.
They would rather develop a mitigation strategy to prevent future incidents, Environment and Tourism Minister Uahekua Herunga told residents in Tsumeb on Monday during a meeting about the medical report of workers of Dundee Precious Metals (DPM), formerly known as NCS.
“The audit concluded that the smelter was indeed negatively affecting the health of its employees, community and environment, but that these effects could be resolved, and there was no need to close the smelter down.
In response to these findings, the government decided to address the problem by developing a mitigation strategy which included engaging the operators of the Namibia Custom Smelters,” he explained.
Tsumeb residents complained to Government in 2011 that their health and quality of life was being negatively affected by the operations of NCS.
The Tsumeb Smelter Complex was built between 1961 and 1962, and commissioned in 1963 by Tsumeb Corporation Limited (TCL).
In 2010, DPM completed the acquisition of NCS from Weatherly Mining International by way of the purchase of 100 per cent of the shares of NCS.
In response to this cry, Government decided to undertake a technical audit of the smelter between November 2011 and January 2012.
The team undertook an occupational health examination of the smelter’s employees, a community health examination of local citizens and an environmental impact assessment of the smelter in Tsumeb.
According to the 2013 health survey report issued after the audit, workers suffered from skin rashes and cancer, hearing loss as well as sulphur dioxide (SO2) symptoms.
Sulphur dioxide at standard atmosphere is a toxic gas with a pungent, irritating and rotten smell.
One of the decisions that Government made was that all the current employees of the NCS and others who had left employment from there in the last few years would be given a medical examination, and treatment, if so required.
Herunga said the focus on the workers was deliberately intended to isolate and quantify the problem at its source in the smelter in the expectation that once this was done, all the identified negative health impacts seen within the community would then also be addressed.
“The government and the smelter operators are also engaged in other activities, whose ultimate long-term objective is to make sure that such a situation does not occur again,” he added.
The medical surveillance was conducted during 18 March to 19 May 2013 under the control of the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
The medical surveillance examined a total of 1 759 persons.
These included 1 273 contractor employees, and 486 permanent DPM employees.
Out of this total number, 1 391 were employees currently at work, while 368 were ex-employees.
The initial occupational health examination focused on about 190 employees of NCS, who were considered to be working in high-exposure areas of the smelter.
The community health assessment involved a survey of 400 households in Tsumeb, and another 400 households in nearby Grootfontein.
The environmental impact assessment component considered water, soil and air samples from around the smelter.