Environmental non-compliances reported by affected communities, the media, & NGOs
Community complaints reported in annual reports
ArcelorMittal’s impacts on the environment have affected numerous communities. ArcelorMittal’s 2010 Annual Report detailed the following environmental issues and requests which had been raised by communities during meetings with the company:
Greater involvement of community members in waste management projects for social upliftment. The recently launched Waste Act is unfortunately restrictive as even small waste-related projects require waste management licences, which in turn affects their ﬁnancial feasibility.
Concerns regarding the state of the Leeuwspruit river in Boipatong. A partnership with provincial authorities and other stakeholders is currently being considered to get a proposal off the ground.
Public participation exercises conducted as part of environmental impact assessment processes.
Monitoring committees established as part of permit or other requirements.
Monitoring forums established by national, provincial or local authorities, or a combination thereof.1
News reports detail complaints made by members of local communities about the pollution caused by ArcelorMittal, including in relation to the contamination of groundwater and public health issues:
Sunday Independent article from 25 September 2009 entitled “Arcelor Mittal South Africa dismisses pollution claims”
On Thursday about 20 former residents of the valley gathered in a makeshift shed on Matsepe’s property to recount their experiences to a group of international journalists and environmental activists.
They spoke about how animals were born deformed and how tea would foam when they poured milk into it. Clothes would be bleached of their colors after washing; tins of food and even metal window frames would rust away.
‘My oldest daughter has three different kinds of cancer. All my children are sick, and what is really frightening is that my grandchildren are also sick. This is from, I believe, where we stayed,’ said Joey Cock, 71.2
Mail & Guardian article from 26 June 2015 entitled “Big business shrugs off health concerns”
Clasping her hands together, Molete says the factory has been there her whole life. “We have always had to live with the smoke from Mittal. You won’t find many old people like me still walking around.
The worst smoke comes at night, when the asthmatic wakes up with a heavy chest, unable to breathe. “You open the door to try to get fresh air and there is just this smoke outside. You cannot escape.”
Her granddaughter, 30-year-old Semakaleng Molete, stops sweeping the dust from her gate to join the conversation. “We suffer because of that factory. It does what it wants and nobody is fighting for us.”3
Mail & Guardian article from 3 July 2015 entitled “Just admit it, corporate SA: You are killers”
Last week, I talked to people living downwind of the multinational ArcelorMittal plant in Vanderbijlpark. Last year the company made R220-million profit from its local operations.
In this area, chest problems are the norm. Everyone I spoke to either had them or a close family member did.
Standing on a gravel road half a kilometre from the ArcelorMittal plant, a 60-year-old woman said she could hardly make it to the end of her street. Her cupboard is packed with asthma medication.
Her granddaughter said her four-year-old son had such bad asthma that he regularly ends up in hospital. He cannot participate in sport and the communal activities that shape a healthy childhood. He gets to start life at a massive disadvantage, thanks to a quirk of birth.4
Report by the Bench Marks Foundation
In a recent report produced by the non-profit Bench Marks Foundation, entitled ‘Steel at any cost: A community voice perspective on the impacts of ArcelorMittal’s operations in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa’, attention is drawn to the pollution caused by ArcelorMittal and the illnesses suffered by those residing near manufacturing operations.5 Having engaged with members of the local community, it was noted that the general feedback was that:-
Pollution by the company to the surrounding environment is rife. The people also said that efforts to deal with this by the company range from denial of responsibility to piecemeal solutions that do not adequately address the real issues affecting the ordinary people. Many families there were suffering illnesses, most of the time due to the dust emanating from the company and there is a lack of clean water in some communities.6
In 2013, the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, sought access to the Vanderbijlpark ‘Environmental Master Plan’ and the documentation relating to the closure of the Vaal Waste Disposal Site under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. ArcelorMittal refused to disclose the documents, stating in the company’s 2013 Sustainable Development Report:-
The Environmental Master Plan was researched and written for internal purposes and dates back to 2002. The detailed results of an audit of this kind are a conﬁdential matter and we believe that this document must be viewed in this light. Furthermore, signiﬁcant changes in the environmental legislative framework recently introduced have led to more stringent environmental controls, thus rendering the Environmental Master Plan outdated and irrelevant. On this basis, combined with other arguments, we refused VEJA’s request for access to the documentation.7
VEJA initiated proceedings to challenge this refusal and was successful in the South Gauteng High Court. ArcelorMittal’s subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal was unsuccessful and ArcelorMittal was directed by the Court to release the document. The court gave a strongly worded judgment in support of corporate transparency, holding that:
Corporations operating within our borders, whether local or international, must be left in no doubt that in relation to the environment in circumstances such as those under discussion, there is no room for secrecy and that constitutional values will be enforced.8
The Supreme Court also criticised ArcelorMittal’s public assertions as to its commitment to stakeholder engagement, remarking that:
It is difficult to understand AM’s accusation that VEJA is setting itself up as an alternative regulatory authority. It calls into question AM’s stated commitment to collaborative corporate governance in relation to the environment, as well as its bona fides in resisting the request for information.9
The Master Plan contains the results of pollution tests and specialist investigations covering a broad spectrum of environmental topics, including ground water, air quality, surface water and environmental monitoring.10
The Integration Report of January 2003 (which forms part of the Master Plan) makes clear that, at the time that the Master Plan was prepared, there was already substantial pollution at the Vanderbijlpark plant, particularly groundwater and soil contamination by a range of contaminants that include heavy metals.11 It also recorded a “potentially unacceptable impact” on the surface water of the Rietkuilspruit via the Rietspruit canal.12
The report showed a “potentially unacceptable” risk to the environment and human health as these contaminants move through groundwater, with potential exposure through affected drinking water.13 The Report noted that the affected aquifers “can generally not be remediated to acceptable risk levels through technical measures, over the short and medium terms. Such measures will require flushing of the aquifers with ‘clean’ water and/or steam and will in any event take several decades to improve the situation significantly”.14
It is important to note that the Master Plan was commissioned by ArcelorMittal, and community organisations have now started the arduous process of assessing the quality of the evidence provided by the Master Plan. Initial findings by expert and scientist of Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide in the USA, Dr Mark Chernaik, have pointed out that, given that groundwater samples taken as part of the Master Plan reports showed detectable levels of cadmium, “cadmium toxicity should have been, but was not, a main focus of the investigation of groundwater contamination in the vicinity of AMSA”. Chronic exposures to very low levels of cadmium can cause renal dysfunction, including kidney failure. Residents of Steel Valley have long alleged significant health impacts from water pollution in the area.
National Contaminated Land Register
- ArcelorMittal Annual Report 2010, at p74, available at: http://www.arcelormittalsa.com/Portals/0/ArcelorMittal_full_Lo-res2.pdf
- ArcelorMittal South Africa dismisses pollution claims, by Sapa-AP, Sunday Independent (South Africa), September 25th, 2009, available at http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=15455
- http://mg.co.za/article/2015-06-25-big-business-shrugs-off-health-concerns (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
- http://mg.co.za/article/2015-07-02-just-admit-it-corporate-sa-you-are-killers (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
- http://www.bench-marks.org.za/press/arcelor_mittal_report_nov2013.pdf at p26 - p27.
- ArcelorMittal Sustainability Report 2013, at p52, available at: http://www.arcelormittalsa.com/Portals/0/0ndiu0ye_compressPdf.pdf
- Company Secretary of ArcelorMittal South Africa and Another v Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, paragraph 82, available at: http://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/VEJA-v-AMSA-SCA-Judgment.pdf
- Company Secretary of ArcelorMittal South Africa and Another v Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, paragraph 53, available at: http://cer.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/VEJA-v-AMSA-SCA-Judgment.pdf
- http://cer.org.za/news/steel-giants-environmental-records-exposed (last accessed on 7 August 2015).
- Page 36 of the IVS Master Plan Integration Report. The Report (Pages 133 – 138 of the IVS Master Plan Integration Report) lists elevated levels of Ca, Mg, SO4, Cl, K, Na, NO3, F, Fe and Mn.
- Page 138 of the IVS Master Plan Integration Report.
- Pages 36 and 157 of the IVS Master Plan Integration Report.
- Page 38 of the IVS Master Plan Integration Report.
- ArcelorMittal South Africa Ltd Vanderbijlpark Works: Notification of Investigation Areas in terms of Section 36(5) of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act 59 of 2008
- Acknowledgement of receipt of notification of investigation areas for ArcelorMittal Vanderbijlpark
- The CER obtained an incomplete copy of the National Contaminated Land Register in response to a request for access to information submitted to the Department of Environmental Affairs in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000.