Step into the streets of Mabvuku and you’ll immediately see the danger posed to the health of its residents. Fine dust particles from the two chimneys of a nearby cement manufacturing company, Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe, are traumatising residents as they create a white cloud on roof-tops, prompting residents to seek refuge indoors, a safer haven for their health.
According to residents, a number of people in the area have been admitted to hospital, suffering from circulatory and respiratory illnesses. Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe is currently producing an average of 1,200 tonnes of cement per day.
Air pollution is the presence of impurities in the atmosphere in quantities and duration that are harmful to the health of humans. Though scientists say that pollution is not quite a top-ten killer, Mabvuku residents have different thoughts.
A tour of Mabvuku with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) drew residents to call on the cement company to “put people before profits.”
“People may not fall over and die in the street from air pollution, but it can be the last link in the chain. We are living dangerously here because there is nothing the company [Lafarge] is doing to protect us,” said one resident Francis Muchatibaya.
Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe, formerly Circle Cement, is a subsidiary of the Lafarge Group. Before it merged in 2001, residents used to get pints of milk to help neutralize inhaled dust from the chimneys.
Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Publicity and Education Manager Steady Kangata acknowledged that there are regulations that companies should abide by regarding polluting the air.
“Companies should abide by the Statutory Instruments (SI) that we put in place. SI 72 of 2009 gives emission standards. All emission points must be licensed,” Kangata said. He said that Lafarge has licensed their two chimneys.
A recent study by a group of scientists at the Carlos III Health Institute in the USA found that people living within five kilometers of highly polluted industries which emit fine dust and other arsenic pollutants, have around six percent higher chance of dying due to certain cancers than people who live further away.
Harare News was unable to get comment from Lafarge Cement’s Corporate Affairs Executive Washington Mutasa, as his phone was unreachable. However, a source in the company’s administration, who requested anonymity, cast some light on the company’s position on the plight of nearby residents.
“The company has made it clear that people who are developing their stands in the vicinity of its operations should stop because the stands are encroaching into an industrial site. People are failing to make a positive contribution to their safety by putting stands before their safety,” she said.
Chamunorwa Kawondera, an employee at Lafarge, disagrees. He says that people got the stands in 1995 but they did not develop them until “around 2006”.
“Only one housing cooperative Kugarika Kushinga managed to get stands for the people and it is still doing so. People are also developing the stands,” said Kawondera.
Faith Madzore, a nurse from Mabvuku, said that because of the fugitive dust the principal at-risk groups are people with respiratory ailments, such as asthma. Fugitive dust is particles that become airborne.
“Now we’re seeing other types of effects – for example in the case of larger particles, there are pollutants that are carcinogenic. There are pollutants which cause lower birth weights in babies,” she said.
Madzore added, “Government should institute different anti-pollution policies – such as low-emission zones or penalties for companies that pollute the most.”
In May this year, Lafarge Zimbabwe pledged $10,000 to City of Harare towards repairing ambulances as part of its corporate social responsibility scheme. The company said the ambulances should prioritise the Mabvuku, Tafara and Greendale communities.
Are residents who move into polluted areas asking for trouble, or should the existing manufacturers such as Lafarge bear the cost of cleaning the air? Let us know your thoughts via firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments section below.