JOHANNESBURG – ArcelorMittal South Africa (Amsa), Africa’s steel-making giant, was yesterday slapped with a R3.64 million fine for allegedly violating three atmospheric emissions licence conditions at its Vanderbijlpark operations, south of Johannesburg.
Amsa said it had entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors relating to the charge of exceeding hydrogen sulfide (H2S) minimum emissions standards at the coke-making plant between January and December 2016.
The Vanderbijlpark Regional Court ordered that Amsa pay the fine to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). Amsa chief executive Kobus Verster said that the company was pleased that the matter had been finalised, adding that avoiding a lengthy and expensive trial would not be in anyone's interests.
“While we acknowledge that emissions at our Vanderbijlpark plant exceeded permissible H2S levels for a period of time in the past, steps were taken to address the problem, but unfortunately the initiatives implemented did not adequately resolve the problem. Significant investment in a sustainable solution has subsequently been made, which was also acknowledged by the authorities,” said Verster. He said the group remained committed to focusing on and continuously improving its social, economic, financial and environmental performance. Last May Amsa and the environmental manager Johan Hattingh were charged with breaking environmental laws.
Michelle Koyama, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), said yesterday that the CER was pleased that a fine was issued in the criminal prosecution against Amsa. “For too long, there has been serious non-compliance with the minimum emission standards by several polluters, despite long lead times to come into compliance and postponements from compliance having been granted by the government,” said Koyama.
Koyama said, however, it was worrying that such litigation was necessary as companies should, in the first place, ensure that they operated within the confines of the law, without causing harm to both people and the environment.
“High levels of air pollution have devastating impacts on human health and wellbeing. If large industrial companies fail to address their pollution and emissions, they will continue to face litigation and prosecution in accordance with the law. This includes the Deadly Air litigation instituted last year,“ said Koyama.
In 2014 Amsa promised to adopt a new transparent approach and assured affected communities that it had cleaned up its act after a court victory by the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance. However, pollution from multiple sources at its Vanderbijlpark facilities continued, as evidenced in the government's annual National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Reports, Koyama said.
She said the company also remained the country's third highest emitter of greenhouse gases and, to date, had not disclosed a strategy to reduce its emissions or mitigate the risks and harm posed by its operations.
“We look forward to the DEA’s statement around the fine that it has issued, as well as a detailed report from Amsa on what has been done to prevent and stop the pollution in relation to its air emission violations,” Koyama said.
Amsa's share price closed 2.94 percent lower at R0.66 on the JSE on Wednesday.