New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Keetmanshoop Stone Crusher Sickens Residents

Keetmanshoop — Residents of an affluent residential area in Keetmanshoop allege they are exposed to the inhalation of harmful dust particles, which comes from the contaminated air produced by a company that crushes stones near their homes.

Residents complain that the Super Sand stone-crushing plant operating in Keetmanshoop has not only flouted environmental safety regulations, but they allege that the company operates in an unhygienic manner causing the emission of pollutants in the area that sicken residents. The nearby Canyon Hotel is also bearing the brunt of the pollution emanating from the plant, which is dangerously close to the B1 highway.

Locals also informed New Era that the authorities have turned a blind eye to the health problems caused by the stone-crushing plant. In 2007, the Keetmanshoop Town Council agreed to enter into negotiations with the company to relocate, following complaints from the affected residents.

Residents of the houses close to the plant, especially those living in the 'Middel Dorp' suburb are finding it difficult to lead a normal life due to the heavy pollution caused by the plant, which is situated about 200 metres away, according to Annalie Resandt, who owns a house in the neighbourhood.

She says frequent visits to the doctor have become part and parcel of her life, because her children frequently experience breathing problems associated with inhaling the dust. They question how the company got permission to operate a rock crusher so close to a residential area, without the required environmental impact assessment study.

Residents further have strong suspicions that the plant continues to be operated with impunity despite their concerns.

It has emerged that the operations at the plant began unobtrusively on a small scale, but have grown to such an extent that now a fully fledged crushing unit and a brick-making project are in operation.

According to Resandt, residents have been demanding a joint inspection by the local health inspectorate with officials from the local authority, but no one was paying heed to their demand. It is also alleged that since the factory is located in an area close to the Central Business District (CBD) of the town and a residential suburb, the dust particles released by it causes serious pollution in general.

Resandt also alleges that there are no dust suppression systems installed in the units and no belt of greenery around the plant, as dust palliation measures. However, when contacted to shed light on the pollution allegations, Super Sand owner, Gerbard Van der Merwe, said the weather patterns do influence the direction and dispersion of pollutants, adding: "This is something we cannot control."

He, however, confirmed that negotiations with the town council have been finalised on the relocation of the plant to a serviced plot close to the Oranje River Wynmakers Company before the end of March. Van der Merwe added that the Southern Electricity Company (Selco) has also completed the electrification of the new site. "We are now ready to relocate."

When asked whether an environmental impact assessment study was carried out before the company started operations, Van der Merwe said that he was not aware of any such assessment apart from a letter he received from the Keetmanshoop Town Council when he bought the business from the previous owner.

"So it appears that there may not have been an assessment done, apart from the letter I received from the town council," he added. When asked what he had done or intended to do to improve the safety compliance levels at the plant, he said suitable personal protective equipment is provided to employees like masks, safety boots and goggles, but the workers prefer not to wear them.

Keetmanshoop Town Council health inspector, Rudo-Whan Benade, said he was aware of the problem and that the town council and the company finally agreed on the relocation of the plant to a serviced plot outside town.

"Yes I can confirm that the matter has been attended to and the company is due to close business by February 28 and to move to the new plot provided," Benade added.

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