FEARS of a significant impact of Namibia Custom Smelters' (NCS) operations on the health of employees and the Tsumeb community have been dispelled by a medical tribunal.
An earlier investigation done into the environmental and health impacts of the operations of the NCS had recommended that the production of the smelter should be reduced drastically from 18 000 tonnes per month to 7 500 tonnes to reduce the incidence of skin rashes.
In the meantime the production has been increased again to 14 000 tonnes per month after it was found that those who were tested had weak reactions to the arsenic and other chemical emissions.
This same investigating team found that water supplied to the Ondundu residential area was not suitable for domestic use and the water supply to that area was suspended immediately. However, an investigation conducted by the Department of Water Affairs showed that nothing was wrong with the water and the supply was restored.
The investigation was conducted in December last year and January this year after occupational health concerns were raised.
According to the report, the furnace bag-houses were a major source of reported arsenic skin rashes and the emission of sulphur dioxide from the smelter had to be reduced.
It was then decided that a medical tribunal be set up to conduct detailed medical examinations of people working at the smelter and to determine the cause of their medical conditions.
Five people took part in the full medical examinations. Four of the five were found to have medical conditions that were not related to their employment at the smelter, while one who worked for a company subcontracted by NCS had a skin rash.
Another 13 NCS employees volunteered, from different sites within the smelter premises, to be tested for allergic skin reactions due to chemical exposure. Ten of them showed weak allergic or irritant reactions to arsenic and other chemicals present at the smelter.
In the meantime NCS has obtained the services of a medical doctor on site and workers are tested regularly.