Caption: Assmang's crushing and screening plant at the Cato Ridge works, centre back, was shut "for maintenance" during a site visit yesterday by Deputy Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi. The company said it was routine maintenance, but the facility is believed to have ongoing dust extraction problems. Picture: Ingi Salgado
Caption: Assmang's crushing and screening plant at the Cato Ridge works, centre back, was shut "for maintenance" during a site visit yesterday by Deputy Environmental Affairs Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi. The company said it was routine maintenance, but the facility is believed to have ongoing dust extraction problems. Picture: Ingi Salgado

Assmang gets nod for trying to comply

By Time of article published Jul 22, 2011

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Ingi Salgado

Manganese producer Assmang yesterday showed off a R400 million capital spending programme, which will help to bring its Cato Ridge works in compliance with environmental laws, during a site inspection by Rejoice Mabudafhasi, the Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs.

But the company, jointly owned by African Rainbow Minerals and Assore, nevertheless shut down its crushing and screening plant at the Cato Ridge works for the day.

An environmental inspector on site confirmed that the Green Scorpions had identified dust problems at this plant during a 2007 visit to the Cato Ridge works, and that it still did not comply with regulations.

Clive Padayachee, the senior general manager of Assmang’s Cato Ridge works, blamed the shutdown of the plant on “routine maintenance”, claiming it was closed for eight hours once a week. But a union official complained: “Why now?”

Kuthula Khanyezi, the National Union of Mineworkers chairman at the Cato Ridge works, alleged that, after Mabudafhasi’s visit had been arranged, the company called in a contractor to sweep away volumes of dust at the works and painted the staff canteen.

“Employees are so angry because the changes are just because someone’s coming,” he said. “That’s the norm here. If directors are coming, we are told the place must be clean. Sometimes employees refuse.”

Khanyezi conceded that Assmang was “trying to comply (with stricter environmental laws) – but not very fast”.

Rico Euripidou, a researcher at environmental NGO groundWork, said there was no doubt that Assmang had made “huge improvements” at the Cato Ridge works since the 2007 inspection.

But he questioned whether air emissions targets set with the government were “good enough”. He also expressed concern that metal leaching from Assmang’s old unlined waste disposal site had been detected off site, and that Assmang hoped to reclassify its slag as non-hazardous.

Now 51 years old, Assmang’s Cato Ridge operation has become blackened from decades of use during which air emissions standards were extremely lenient and went unmonitored. The introduction of the National Environmental Management Act has since raised standards, while enforcement has been beefed up.

Mabudafhasi told Assmang chief executive Jan Steenkamp that his company had been “the worst in the country” following the 2007 inspection, which found several transgressions relating to air pollution and waste disposal, among other things. But she was pleased the company had not erected a “concrete wall and become aggressive” after being issued with compliance notices.

“Though you are not yet 100 percent, you are aiming there,” she said.

Steenkamp said there were “a significant number of challenges” ahead at Cato Ridge. He said Assmang was funding a research project to evaluate whether it should update its aging technology: “Do we carry on maintaining and complying, or do we take the next quantum leap?”

Apart from its issues with the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, Assmang is awaiting a decision from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on whether to prosecute following a February 2008 blast at a furnace that killed six people and injured three.

Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant said in April that she had handed a report on the explosions to the NPA after her department had held a formal inquiry into the incident in accordance with section 32 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Oliphant’s spokesman Mzobanzi Jakazana said yesterday that the report would not be made public until a decision had been taken by the NPA.

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