Cape Town – Irate residents of Charleston Hill, Paarl, are fearing for their health due to the proximity of a nearby fertiliser blending plant.
They accused the municipality of “a dereliction of duty of care” for not having a proper environmental impact assessment on the plant.
Residents of the Drakenstein municipality formed themselves into the Charleston Hill Action Group (CHAG) and have since 2017 been lobbying the municipality, the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and Yara Fertilizers – the company behind the plant – over the company’s expansion plans and perceived air pollution.
In a letter to the department, CHAG chairperson Lindsay van der Berg said: “Until an environmental impact assessment is conducted on the impact of the Yara facility, we believe that allowing it to operate is a serious breach of community safety and infringes on the human rights of the people of Paarl to live in an environment which is not a threat to their health and well-being.”
On Thursday last week, CHAG convened a community meeting at which Van der Berg said: “Drakenstein municipality has not demonstrated the required accountability and duty of care to the Paarl community by allowing Yara to continue their operations.”
CHAG resolved to focus on completing its own independent scientific research and to challenge the municipality’s decisions regarding Yara in court.
On Monday, ANC Ward 22 councillor Abraham Beeker said he was aware of the CHAG concerns and would be bringing them up at an ANC caucus this week in the run up to a council meeting on Thursday.
In an online petition at Change.org CHAG said: “Charleston Hill is an area that was created by the apartheid government for the historical segregation and the forced removal of black community members that had lived in Paarl West (west of the Berg River). Now their health and the health of future generations are in jeopardy due to the location of a fertiliser mixing plant in the exact same area.”
Last year, Drakenstein municipality granted permission for Yara to extend their operations by 92% or 10 249m² and increase production by 38 000 tons a year to 108 000 tons a year. CHAG complained about this in writing and at the municipality’s integrated development meetings during April and May. CHAG said its concerns remained unanswered and even ignored.
“We believe this permission was granted without the necessary consideration of the environmental and health impact of the current and proposed future facility on the surrounding communities,” said Arendse.
Yara communications manager Tyla Rogers said: “The facility being built is not a plant. We are installing a blender. A blending unit receives finished product, mixes it and fills in bags before shipping to farmers in the region to help increase agricultural productivity.
“The nutrients in mineral fertilisers are the same as those found naturally in the soil, and they are essential elements for crops, animals and human beings. We aim to minimise the exposure of workers and contractors to conditions that could negatively affect their health, security and safety.”
An air quality report was submitted by Yara to the municipality in 2016, but Arendse said: “It relies on outdated data from 2008/2009.
“Yara appealed the decision without submitting additional or more recent data, and, interestingly, permission was granted.”