Mozambique NGOs blast BHP emissions

2010-11-17 14:45

Maputo - Mozambican NGOs have reacted strongly to BHP Billiton's decision to start its planned release of pollutants at its aluminium plant outside the country's capital - despite a pending court judgment on its permit.

"It's arrogant. It's illegal," Antonio Reina, head of Livaningo environmental organisation, told Sapa.

"They have no legal right to start as far as we know."

The Mozal aluminium plant on Wednesday started the planned emission of dust, tars and hydrogens during four month-long repairs to its fume treatment towers, although an application to suspend the special pollution permit in the country's Administrative Court was still pending.

A coalition of environmental and human rights NGOs slammed the decision which showed "total disregard and disrespect for the on-going process in the Administrative Court, which seeks, above all, to safeguard the public interest".

"Once again, this case demonstrates that Mozal determines the rules of the game and (the environmental ministry) complies with Mozal’s orientations and pretensions, even though these imply violating the law," the statement read.

The pollution raised controversy because of the lack of public consultation with the 800 000 people living in the area around the plant before Mozal applied for a permit as well as the lack of independent environmental studies, and alleged mismanagement that led to the corrosion.

BHP Billiton later made available an incomplete environmental study which one analyst described as "grossly misleading".

The controversy drove the NGO coalition to lay formal complaints against BHP at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Socially Responsible Investment Index (SRI), and a number of ethics bodies.

In an interview with Sapa on Monday BHP vice-president for communications Johnny Dladla said he did not know when the bypass would start.

Other BHP spokespersons were not immediately available for comment.