Namibian Custom Smelter, Tsumeb, Namibia

NCS is one of the few copper smelter in the world whose highly polluting process is not monitored and puts at high risk water resources, workers and residents' lives and the area's biodiversity.


Description

The Namibian Custom Smelter (NCS) is one of the few smelter in the world to treat concentrated copper. The blister copper is processed to copper metal  in European and Asian refineries, the arsenic trioxide is sold worldwide for wood treatment and pesticide chemicals production. However, the production process is highly polluting due to its release of arsenic trioxide, among other hazardous waste.  Today, the global demand for the former is shrinking. As a result, the arsenic dust waste is piling up in sugar bags, a few meters away from the first houses of Tsumeb town.  In 2010, the smelter was aquired by Dundee Precious Metals (DPM). The terms of the transaction granted DPM with no accountability for the smelter's previous impacts under the former owners. The Canadian company received money from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development in 2012 to increase the ore recovery of its mine Chelopech, in Bulgarian. Half of the copper smelted in Tsumeb comes from that mine, since Bulgarian laws have forbidden the highly polluting process. The rest of the treated copper comes from Peruvian, Chilean and Namibian mines. The smelter's capacities were doubled with the construction of new acid and oxygen plants, achieving a new record of production for the last quarterly of the year 2016.  For a long time, the smelter’s workers have been suffering diverse health issues, from skin rashes, burned faces, blindness to cancers. Their complains intensified in 2010 and drew national media’s attention.

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Basic Data
NameNamibian Custom Smelter, Tsumeb, Namibia
CountryNamibia
ProvinceOshikoto Region
SiteTsumeb
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Mineral processing
Specific CommoditiesSmelting of concentrated copper to produce blister copper, sulphuric acid and arsenic trioxide.
Copper
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsTsumeb Smelter Complex was built between 1961-62. There was both a copper and lead smelter. It became operational in 1963 under the license for Tsumeb Corporation Limited, controlled by a partnership between the Canadian Newmont Mining and the American Mining company. Successive foreign companies became owners of the smelter. In 1988, Gold Fields South Africa (GFSA) takes over the smelter. The lead smelter stopped functionning by 1994. GFSA's smelter and its surrounding mines were bought by Ongopolo Mining and Processing Limited (OMPL) in 2000. For a short period of time, the smelter also belonged to Weatherly Mining International.

Tsumeb smelter is one of the few in the world to treat concentrate copper from which it produces blister copper, sulphuric acid and arsenic trioxide. The blister copper is processed to copper metal in European and Asian refineries, the arsenic trioxide is sold worldwide for wood treatment and pesticide chemicals production.

In 2010, the smelter was aquired by Dundee Precious Metals (DPM). The terms of the transaction granted DPM with no accountability for the smelter's previous impacts under the former owners. The Canadian company received money from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development in 2012 to increase the ore recovery of its mine Chelopech, in Bulgarian. Half of the copper smelted in Tsumeb comes from that mine, since Bulgarian laws have forbidden the highly polluting process. The rest of the treated copper comes from Peruvian, Chilean and Namibian mines. The smelter's capacities were doubled with the construction of new acid and oxygen plants, achieving a new record of production for the last quarterly of the year 2016.
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population16,000
Start Date01/01/2010
Company Names or State EnterprisesNewmont Mining Corporation from United States of America
Dundee Precious Metals (DPM) from Canada
Namibia Custom Smelters (Pty) Ltd. (NCS) - wholly-owned subsidiary of Dundee Precious Metals
American mining company from United States of America
Tsumeb Corporation Limited (TCL)
Ongopolo Mining and Processing Limited ( (OMPL)) from Namibia
Gold Fields South Africa (GFSA) from South Africa
Weatherly Mining International from Namibia
Relevant government actorsMinistry of the Environment of Namibia, Ministry of Health, Tsumeb electoral Constituency, Ministry of Mines and Energy, Chamber of Mines Namibia, Oshikoto Regional Council
International and Financial InstitutionsUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCEE Bankwatch Network, Earthlife Namibia, ZA Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)UNKNOWN
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndustrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Shareholder/financial activism.
Investors targeted by Bankwatch campaign for desinvestment
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Global warming, Air pollution, Soil contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Other Environmental impacts, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
OtherAtmospheric pollution by airbone particles (arsenic trioxide dust, sulphuric dioxide), heavy metals' pollution of soil and grass (with arsenic, lead and cadmium), fauna and flora from the nearby Etosha National Park put under threat
Health ImpactsVisible: Occupational disease and accidents
Potential: Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
OtherHigh concentration of arsenic in urine's samples (Bankwatch), poor health and work conditions for the smelter's employees exposed to inhalable arsenic (suffering from skin rashes, hearing loss, cancer, blindness, and burned faces and sulphur dioxide (SO2) symptoms).
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Specific impacts on women
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place
OtherMany young single mothers (impregnated by the smelter's workers)
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseTechnical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
The EIA from 2013 was never published, EJOs doubt it has ever existed, Technical improvements of the smelter to reduce impacts were coupled with the doubling of its capacities of production.
Development of AlternativesRecommendations to the different stakeholders, by Bankwatch, Earthlife Namibia and Friends of the Earth Bugaria (common report from 2016):

-European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has to condition its financial loans to DPM transparency on the smelter’s impacts, but overall NCS cannot be substantially sustainable and so EBRD’s credits to DPM should be reconsidered;

-Tsumeb inhabitants should focus on diversifying the town’s economic revenues, ending its workforce’s dependency on the smelter and in collaboration with Tsumeb municipality there should independent monitorinf of inhabitants’ heath and the environment (on water resources in particular);

-The goverment should impose a public management constraining DPM to adequately dispose of the arsenic waste. Alarming: the arsenic dumping site is running out of its capacity.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Scarce information available on the smelter’s various consequences. For instance, DPM does not even communicate to the workers the results of their own bi-annual medical tests. All data from the smelter’s activity are given by DPM, no independent sources of information. Report from 2016 estimates the annual production of arsenic trioxide of more than 10.000 tons, DPM says it is of 4.200 tons. Arsenic trioxide continues being cumulated with no protective measures for the population and the surrounding environment. Workers continue to be inadequately compensated when their health and lives are put under threat.
Sources and Materials
Legislations

Environmental Management Act 7/2007 of the Republic of Namibia, Article 17 and 38 concerning the public access to Environmental Assessements and Clearance Certificates
[click to view]

Article 95 of Namibian Constitution, compelling the Namibian Government to protect its citizens from foreign nuclear and toxic waste

Environmental permit No.18-8, 11/2011 for the smelter

References

Mining conflicts around the world. Common grounds from an Environmental Justice perspective, EJOLT Report, No. 7, November 2012
[click to view]

Preliminary Report on the Survey of Namibian Customs Smelter Workers Tsumeb, Namibia, August 2013, National institute for occupational health
[click to view]

Irene Nangula Nunes, Impacts of Tsumeb smelter waste on plant species diversity and structure in Tsumeb, North-Central Namibia, Master Thesis in Biodiversity Management, 2007
[click to view]

Links

Genady Kondarev, Exporting toxic pollution from Europe to Namibia, Bankwatch Newtork, November 19, 2015
[click to view]

Genady Kondarev, Health reports confirmed widespread over-exposure to toxic arsenic at Tsumeb smelter in Namibia, Bankwatch Newtork, December 22, 2015
[click to view]

Canadian miner achieves record smelter production, January 24th, 2017, Mining Weekly
[click to view]

Dundee Precious Metals official presentation of Tsumeb Smelter
[click to view]

Government to develop mitigation strategies at Tsumeb smelter, September 17, 2017, Lela
[click to view]

Sulphuric Acid on the web, Tsumeb Acid Plant Database, January 28 2017
[click to view]

Govt to develop mitigation strategies at Tsumeb smelter, September 2014, The Namibian
[click to view]

Shasimana Uugulu, Tsumeb copper miners suffer from arsenic effects, The Villager, 22 August 2011
[click to view]

UNDP visitTsumeb Smelter, 2011, UNDP Namibia webstie
[click to view]

Helge Schutz, Tsumeb Corporation Limited Faces Huge Claim, AllAfrica, 15/10/1997
[click to view]

Media Links

Dirty Precious Metals Report, CEE Bankwatch, Earthlife Namibia, Za Zemiata, January 2016
[click to view]

Other Documents

Arsenic trioxide waste from the smelter kept in sugar bags Source, http://bankwatch.org/
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorCamila Rolando Mazzuca
Last update07/03/2017
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