The Yara fertiliser plant and neighbouring houses in Charleston Hill in Paarl. Photo: Supplied

Cape Town – To test the concerns of the Paarl community over a fertiliser blending facility, Yara, a Norwegian-based company servicing the local agricultural sector, conducted air quality assessments, with three independent reports showing it's not a source of pollution.

The impact a fertiliser plant could have on the health of 1 200 pupils at Charleston Hill Primary School has come under the spotlight following the Drakenstein Municipality's consideration to allow for the expansion of the plant.

Responding to a Cape Times report, "Concern over effect fertiliser project could have on pupils' health", Yara regional director Ig Ferreira said: "I would also be very worried if our fertiliser blending facility in Paarl affected pupils health at the Charleston Hill Primary School, residents of Paarl or our staff.

"Tests were conducted to measure dust fall, chemical fingerprinting, corrosion and ammonia. The test shows that the quality of air is significantly higher than the internationally acceptable standards.

"Dust fall was found to be high on site, but less than 5% of the pollution in the dust fall came from Yara. The report said that traffic was likely a greater cause of air pollution since the site has two major roads on either side.

 "We can deduce from this that Yara poses no health risk to the pupils, the community or our staff.  Yara is committed to act with integrity at all times and we will continue to engage with the community and other interested parties on these issues. 

"Safety is part of our DNA. Doing the right thing for people and planet is important to us. We regret the negative impression this allegation may have caused Yara."

Charleston Hill residents have objected to the project, arguing that it would negatively affect their health and well-being.

The municipality has conducted an Air Quality Impact Assessment into the expansion of the Yara fertiliser blending plant.

Municipality spokesperson Riana Geldenhuys said: “The assessment included a Particulate Matter (PM) monitoring campaign for PM10 and PM2.5 at the Charleston Hill Primary School, which was downwind of the Yara site during the prevailing winds during the monitoring period. 

"The PM data was analysed with meteorological data that indicated that the Yara site was not a significant source of PM during the monitoring period,” said Geldenhuys.

Geldenhuys said that while the PM2.5 indicated raised levels at certain times, it could not be attributed to the fertiliser.

“The community asked clarifying questions as to their health and especially the health impact of the plant on the 1 200 young children attending the Charleston Hill Primary school,” the action group said.

“The municipality disregarded and failed to clarify the community’s concerns. Points of contention were that the consultant advised that the monitoring was done for a three-month period, yet some published data was reported for 34 days only.

“Only one Air Quality Monitor was used, at the school, none at Yara’s premises. This is misrepresenting facts. The consultant could not disclose which materials were held on the premises as he did not have the data sheets,” the group said.

According to Yara, this is a case of "misrepresenting facts" as there were "in fact six monitors on the Yara site".

Provincial Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said on Thursday they had not received any complaints but would make inquiries.

Hammond said that if the fertiliser plant was not on school premises, the Western Cape Education Department did not have the authority to demand an air quality machine to be placed at the school.

On Wednesday, Yara said in a statement to the Cape Times: “We appreciate and respect the concerns raised by the community about Yara’s expansion.

‘‘We have done our utmost to address their concerns, including appointing independent experts to conduct various analysis.

“Yara invited the local community to tour its facility and we explained our plans on two occasions, in June 2017 and July 2019.

“Yara made it clear that we want to continuously collaborate with the community and other stakeholders to find sustainable solutions for the issues raised by the community with the new development.”

Cape Times