Friday, March 09, 2012
By Misheck Wangwe in Kitwe and Gift Chanda in Lusaka
Fri 09 Mar. 2012, 11:59 CAT
MUZ has challenged Mopani Copper Mines to end pollution at Mufulira West
Heap Leaching Mine and save jobs instead of disputing the findings of the environmental authority.
And Mopani Copper Mine's shareholders have ordered the company management to urgently meet officials from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) to address pollution challenges that led to the closure of its treatment plant in Mufulira.
Last Thursday, ZEMA ordered Mopani Copper Mine, a unit of leading swiss global commodity trader Glencore International AG, to suspend operations at its Mufulira West Heap Leaching plant for pollution violations.
In an interview yesterday, Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) general secretary Nkole Chishimba said the defensive position that Mopani had taken over the closed Heap Leaching mine would not compel ZEMA to reopen the plant as the environmental authority had indicated that that would only happen when measures were taken to end the strong acid mists the plant was producing.
He said Mopani should urgently begin to redesign the plant and invest in equipment that would stop the acid mists from polluting Butondo Township in line with ZEMA's recommendations.
Chishimba said Mopani management must protect the 310 jobs created by the Mufulira West Heap Leaching plant by working towards improving its operations to the satisfaction of both the community and the environmental authority.
"We want that mine to reopen because our people need those jobs so workers should not be laid but they are supposed to put them on recess. There is a provision to put workers on recess like it happened in Luanshya when they were redoing the winders at Baluba Mine. They did not fire workers because they realised that it was not a permanent closure. So they should follow the provisions of the recess," Chishimba said.
He said matters of environmental concerns, particularly the allegations of massive pollution of the acid mists the heap leach plant was producing should have been addressed as Butondo residents had been complaining for a long time.
Chishimba said Mopani had the capacity to end pollution, save jobs and protect its operations at Mufulira West Heap Leaching Mine.
But Mopani Copper Mines chief executive officer Danny Callow said the company was surprised at the action taken by ZEMA and expressed fears for the 310 jobs created by the project.
In a statement, Callow said every day of the suspension was costing the company in the region of K525 million and called into question whether Mopani could continue to support the jobs created by the Heap Leach Project.
"Whilst the imminent closure notice appears to have been a precautionary measure on the part of ZEMA, we are not sure where they are getting their information from... We have always conducted our heap leaching project in a responsible manner and in line with or exceeding the terms of license," Callow said.
And according to sources at the mine, management has requested for an audience with ZEMA officials with a view of lifting the suspension of operations at its Mufulira West Heap Leaching plant.
"It seems instructions came from Switzerland where majority shareholders Glencore AG are based, that management should seek audience with ZEMA instead of issuing press statements that are dismissing the findings of the Agency," said the sources.
Last week, ZEMA suspended operations Mopani's Mufurila West Heap Leaching plant over pollution violations.
ZEMA stated that it had inspected the site and that heap leaching - a process that involves metals being leached from a heap of crushed ore by applying acid to the soil-couldn't be resumed until the company had completed eight recommended measures to reduce its effect on the surrounding area.
However, Mopani refuted the findings saying it was "surprised" by the suspension of a part of its mines, particularly since the ZEMA had renewed its operating license recently.
"Mopani's heap leach project has been operating since 2007. It has been properly and closely monitored by the relevant authorities and has always been given a clean bill of health, meeting or exceeding the terms of its license," stated Callow.