Bauxite dust disgrace

It is disgraceful that Lindeners continue to be showered on a daily basis with dust from the operations of Chinese miner, Bosai. It is disgraceful that there has not yet been an authoritative medical study of the ill-effects or otherwise of the dust that has besieged Lindeners for decades. It is beyond disgraceful that a government whose Prime Minister is responsible for mining, was a former long-serving employee of the bauxite industry and hails from Linden has not been able to settle this scourge in 19 years. It is disgraceful that the PNC which has drawn major support from this area for decades and presided in government for 28 years has been unable to inspire lasting change in this situation. It is disgraceful that the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory bodies have failed to take action against the errant miner.

Lindeners must also take their fair share of responsibility for this. What lasting and definitive steps have they taken to force this issue and what have their representatives at the level of the regional and municipal bodies been doing?

As recounted in the SN report of September 8, 2011, Lindeners have been fed a dusty diet of broken promises by companies that have operated the kilns in the area – the latest being Bosai. As one resident put it, “All we have been getting is empty promises and this has been happening for generations over”.

Bosai first promised the dust collectors in December 2009, then April 2010, then September 2010 and then September 2011. Residents are now being told that two dust collecting units will be operational in February next year. Bosai hastily organized a  tour of preliminary works last week to forestall a planned protest.

No bets are likely to be taken on the February 2012 promise but one would expect that the Regional Democratic Council and the new government that will be in place by then will make every effort to ensure that this deadline is met, failing which sanctions should be applied against Bosai by the EPA if that body can stir itself into action.

It is all the more important as Bosai seems to have aggressively ramped up production with the bauxite market trending in a favourable direction. It is also vital that these environmental commitments are kept as Bosai originates from a regulatory environment that has been permissive and indulgent of horrific polluters. It may well feel right at home.

As is usually the case in environmental dangers of this type, children and the vulnerable face the greatest risk. Silvertown students are seriously affected along with others and the school has had to have air-conditioners installed to help cope with the problem of dust flooding into the building.

Until the dust collectors are in place, Bosai must take effective measures to limit the extrusion of particles from its operations including the adjustment of production schedules. Quarterly medical outreaches to address problems complained of are not enough. The company should have a standing medical clinic available to residents in the area affected by the dust.

There is no doubt that years of inhalation of the bauxite dust can lead to a range of respiratory ailments and worse particularly for people who are sensitive to these conditions. Since the state was once the actual operator of these mines it has a special responsibility to document the sufferings and experiences of workers and residents of the community who have been afflicted for many years. Such documentation should lead to a comprehensive study on the human and financial cost to the community and result in specialized care for those who might have longstanding conditions as a result of the dust.

The absence of the dust collectors so many years after bauxite production began in Linden and elsewhere defines the disregard of the industry and the government for the well-being of the people.

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