Tsumeb smelter report in firing lineBy: JAN POOLMAN
THE first cracks in the report on the investigation into alleged human and environmental poisoning caused by the Tsumeb smelter started surfacing with a decision that the water supply to the Ondundu residential area will be resumed this week.
This came after two days of meetings last week between Namibia Custom Smelters (NCS) and the technical and ministerial committees on the implementation of Cabinet recommendations to normalise the situation at Tsumeb.
Some restrictions on the smelter might be a thing of the past and normal production could resume soon, reversing losses of millions of dollars over the past three months.
The investigation found that the municipal water supplied to the Ondundu residential area was not fit for human consumption and that it should be stopped immediately.
This resulted in the provision of 20 000 litres of water daily by the municipality, and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism had to pay for the expenses.
Already in April this year the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry conducted an investigation into the so-called contaminated water and found that there is nothing wrong with it and that the team of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism made some mistakes when analysing the water samples.
It took the Government almost three months to admit it and according to the Environmental Commissioner, Theo Nghitila, it has been decided that the Department of Water Affairs will inform the Tsumeb municipality that the water supply to Ondundu should be resumed.
“We first have to see to it that we have to comply with the Cabinet recommendations with regard to the water and now that it was found that the water is fit for human consumption, we can resume the normal supply. Keep in mind that we cannot take any risks when the lives of humans are involved.”
However, the CEO of the Tsumeb municipality, Archie Benjamin, told The Namibian that he was not informed about the new developments and should therefore continue with the water supply by tanker to Ondundu.
“Until such time that we are officially informed about the status of the water supply to Ondundu we have to deliver the 20 000 litres of water daily.”
With regard to the situation surrounding NCS operations Nghitila said good progress has been made during the discussions last week and he is optimistic that some changes might be made soon.
According to the report the uptake of arsenic at the smelter is excessive and represents a serious health risk to a substantial number of workers. It was stated that the NCS emits about 60 000 tons of sulphur a year into the environment in the form of sulphur dioxide. This can cause acid rain, which kills plants over a wide area and causes breathing problems for people.
As a result the smelter had to reduce its monthly production from 17 000 tonnes to 7 000 tonnes of copper concentrate, resulting in losses of more than N$30 million per month.
At the centre of the controversy is the fact that copper concentrate imported from Bulgaria is said to contain a high level of arsenic.
Earlier the Canadian mining company Dundee Precious Metals (DPM), which took over the smelter in 2010, warned that the Tsumeb smelter with its more than 800 employees will close down if it does not continue to import and treat complex concentrates – which the smelter was originally designed for.
Meanwhile with the annual shutdown of the smelter for maintenance purposes, NCS must improve the capture of fume extractions and according to its Managing Director, Hans Nolte, the permanent upgrading of the Aussmelt will be done towards the end of the year.
“I can confirm that we had fruitful discussions with the technical committee and supplied them with measures already taken to improve the situation at the smelter.”
In addition Nghitila said all parties have a mutual interest to normalise the situation at the smelter, adding that NCS is very cooperative and a next meeting will be held at the beginning of August.