Windhoek — The Canadian listed company that owns Tsumeb smelter has confirmed receipt of "instructions" from the Namibian government to reduce by half, its importation of Bulgarian copper concentrates into Namibia, until equipment is installed to reduce toxin emissions at Tsumeb smelter.
The instructions also include specific issues to be addressed by the smelter, including the occupational health of its workers and the general environment in the town.
Government also asked the fast-tracking of the installation of various equipment that would help reduce toxin emissions.
Dundee Precious Metals, which operates Namibia Custom Smelters, nevertheless said it "would seek further clarification" from the government on the contents of the report and that it is "currently contacting the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to develop a mutually acceptable schedule within which to complete the plant."
In a note to investors, Dunde Precious Metals acknowledged "receiving a letter from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism relating to the operations of the smelter."
The letter "instructs Namibia Customs Smelter" that effective from May 1 the company has "to reduce [the] feed to the smelter by approximately half until the projects designed to capture fugitive emissions have been completed," Dundee Precious Metals said.
The company imports copper concentrates from Bulgaria for processing of about 13,000 tonnes of copper every year.
However, health experts, trade unions and community leaders have for the past two years maintained that the Bulgarian copper contains high levels of toxic elements, and is not wanted anywhere else in the world.
This has allegedly caused serious ailments among Tsumeb residents.
A preliminary government-sanctioned report, issued in early 2011, did confirm the presence of a high concentration levels of toxic elements or "heavy metals" in the immediate surroundings of the smelter.
The preliminary findings were so damning that the confidential report asked the Tsumeb Town Council to prohibit planting or gardening of edible vegetation within a 6-kilometre radius of the smelter.
Government subsequently ordered an in-depth investigation of the toxin emissions, with world-renowned experts probing the effects on human health, plants, underground water and the general environment in the town of Tsumeb, as well as the general effects within a 10-kilometre radius of the smelter and the town of Grootfontein. The contents of the report are currently with cabinet.
"The company is seeking further clarification on the levels the government has outlined, following which it will develop a plan to manage production and related emissions that will have the least impact on the company and the community during this period. In the interim, NCS will work to bring forward the particular components of Project 2012 that specifically address fugitive emissions and also proceed with its scheduled one-month shutdown of the ausmelt furnace in mid-May for annual re-bricking," Dundee Precious Metals said in the statement.
Dundee Precious Metals however emphasises that it "has not yet had an opportunity to review the government commissioned report on the environmental, health and safety audit or discuss the findings with the environment ministry."
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism asked that the smelter company advance the installation of the sulphuric acid plant from 2014 to 2013.
"The health of our workers and care for the environment are extremely important to us as evidenced by the strong relationship we have built with our employees and their representatives. We have spent over US$40million on the smelter in the two years we have owned it and are aware of the challenges that continue to exist there," said Jonathan Goodman, chief executive officer of Dundee Precious Metals.