Brazilian mining giant Vale and the Mozambican government have been hiding pollution statistics that show dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution in Moatize, the town where it operates two coal mines, Zitamar News can reveal.
The Mozambican government is also preventing local residents from conducting their own monitoring of pollution levels, after locals were trained by an international organisation paid for by the UN and Sweden, which also provided monitoring equipment which has been confiscated by local authorities. Meanwhile, leaders of the communities in Bagamoyo and Nhantchere told Zitamar they have been banned from talking to press about the pollution figures by the municipal government of Moatize.
Figures from 2018, recorded by Vale in the town of Moatize and shared with the Mozambican government, show levels of the most dangerous particulates for health averaged ten times the level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) during the month of August 2018.
Zitamar requested to see this data over a year ago, but the company refused to share its figures.
Pollution ten times healthy levels
Mozambique’s outdated legislation does not provide a limit for PM2.5 particles — the smallest and most dangerous particules for health – but the WHO recommends an annual average of 10 micrograms (μg) per cubic metre of air. The legal limit in the European Union is 25μg per m3, and the WHO says that levels of 35μg per m3 are “common in many developing cities”. In Moatize, however, the monthly average for August 2018 was 104, according to Vale’s figures; was above 35μg/m3 for eight months of the year, and averaged 51μg/m3 for the year as a whole.
Mozambican legislation does limit Total Suspended Particles (TSP), much larger and less harmful particulates, to 60μg/m3. In Moatize, however, the 2018 annual average for TSP was 90μg/m3 — 1.5 times the legal limit — peaking at 209μg/m3, more than three times the limit, in August, according to Vale’s figures.
In June 2018, Vale promised to shut down operations if pollution reached “levels of alarm”, which a company representative said it had not yet done — despite levels of TSP that month being twice the legal limit in Mozambique, and PM2.5 being five times the WHO’s recommended limit.
In the first four months of 2019, the company suspended its coal mining operations for a total of 96 hours due to excessive levels of pollution, Maurício Simbine, an environmental engineer working with Vale, told Zitamar in July.
Vale declined to answer Zitamar’s questions about whether it accepts the levels of pollution in Moatize are above legal limits and international standards; whether it has been fined for exceeding Mozambique’s legal limits for polluting; and whether it believes the population of Moatize has the right to be informed of the real levels of pollution in the town.
Instead, company spokeswoman Sheila Miquidade sent a list of measures which Vale says it has undertaken to try and mitigate pollution, such as spraying water to keep down dust.
Human rights violated
A project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Swedish government carried out further monitoring earlier this year, and trained and equipped local residents in Moatize to carry out continued monitoring of air and water pollution levels.
However, locals who benefited from the training told Zitamar that the equipment has effectively been confiscated by the local authorities since the departure of Source International, the organisation carrying out the training, at the end of May.
Dionisio Macave, Head of the Environment section of the Moatize District Services of Planning and Infrastructure (DSPI) told Zitamar News in July that data produced during the training period was being analysed and would be approved by the WHO by 14 July, at which point monitoring could begin — promising that the equipment is available on request to those who were trained, as long as the work is done with DSPI coordination. However, he said there is a dispute between the DSPI and AQUA, Mozambique’s National Agency for Environmental Quality Control, over who should store the equipment — with AQUA apparently wanting to keep it in Maputo. AQUA declined to comment when contacted by Zitamar.
Zitamar contacted a trained local to perform the monitoring, who requested the equipment from the DSPI. They were told that they could have it — but would have to pay a DSPI agent a daily allowance to supervise the activity.
According to a report produced by Source International, which has yet to be published but which was seen by Zitamar News, the mining projects in Moatize constitute a fundamental violation of local residents’ human rights — but “the communities lack concrete evidence to prove violations of their rights caused by the environmental impacts, mainly because they lack the technical tools and state support to enable them to know more precisely the current environmental and health conditions.”
The lack of information provided by the mining companies and by the Mozambican state constitutes a violation “of individual and collective rights, recognized at the national, regional and international levels,” the report says.
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