The Namibian (Windhoek)

Namibia: Van Eck Fumes Pose Health Hazard

NAMPOWER employees at the Van Eck coal-fired power station on the northern outskirts of Windhoek say the constant smoke shrouding the station poses a health and environmental hazard to them and surrounding businesses.

Because the station is used only as a backup power plant, much of the 100 000 tons of coal imported from Botswana around the middle of this year is kept in storage on the premises.

Sources at the station say the blanket of smoke enveloping the area is because the coal is self-combusting.

On most mornings, they say, the smoke drops to the ground as thick, foul-smelling fumes.

“This is a health risk to us all,” one of the sources who prefer anonymity told The Namibian. “We only get fresh air over the weekends [when not at work]. I cough through the evenings. My head constantly feels as if it is pumped full of water; I constantly feel dizzy. I do not want to leave here sick.”

The sources say whereas health tests are required when people start working for NamPower, the company does not make provision for regular health checks to ascertain how its workers at the plant are affected by the smoke.

The company also has not responded to a demand for danger pay, they say.

More disturbing, they say, is that the health and safety department of NamPower is turning a blind eye despite the fact that workers have on numerous occasions reported their concerns.

According to the workers, the City of Windhoek last year wanted to gauge the level of the pollution, but this was reportedly not done.

NamPower says there is currently 74 083 tons of coal in storage, and that about half of it is not affected by spontaneous combustion.

It says all workers fighting the spontaneous combustion of the coal have been supplied with respirators fitted with cartridges to filter out vapours, gasses and dust. These respirators have been tested by a registered supplier of personal protective equipment.

It says other obligatory protective gear include safety shoes, hard hats, overalls,and gas-tight safety glasses for those workers who enter smoky areas.

NamPower does admit that the Van Eck plant has been fighting spontaneous combustion of stored coal for nearly two months, and that it is difficult to extinguish the smouldering coal quickly.

“The company has asked the Windhoek municipal fire brigade for advice and they said that the only way to get it under control is what we are doing currently. We open up the affected areas and drench it with water. This process should continue until all the fires are under control,” said NamPowerÂ’s marketing and corporate communications manager, Tangeni Kambangula.

She said the open coal stockpile is “now under control and all smouldering coal is about extinguished”.

Kambangula further said that workers undergo periodic medical examinations “to make sure that they are fine”.

Van Eck was built in 1972 and has a power generation capacity of 120 megawatts. It is now being used as a backup plant, and according to workers there, the station is in a state of disrepair.

NamPower managing director Paulus Shilamba said earlier that the parastatal was considering rehabilitating and upgrading the station to meet the rising energy demand.

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