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CITIZENS for a Better Environment (CBE), a Copperbelt-based environmental watchdog, has raised concern at the manner the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) expeditiously permitted Chambishi Copper Smelter (CCS) to reopen its smelter just a day after ordering the refinery to shut down following accusations of excessive emissions of sulphur dioxide and pollution.
Last week, ZEMA permitted CCS to reopen under specified conditions and monitoring to ensure compliance with the Environmental Management Act (EMA) without explaining the fate of the 1,000 farmers that complained of crop damage.
CBE executive director Peter Sinkamba said in an interview in Kitwe yesterday that the current policy on monitoring pollution is weak and allows operators to give figures on emissions to ZEMA without counter-checking by a third party.
“The policy is weak, which has created a situation where the law on monitoring emissions has become weak. There is no third party countercheck on the part of ZEMA to confirm whether the figures given by the operators are correct. There is room by operators to manipulate the figures which could have been the case with CCS,” Mr Sinkamba said.
He said CBE will today engage ZEMA to produce the enforcement order for the shutdown at CCS so that it can make an independent evaluation of what transpired.
“The challenge we have is that we did not see the enforcement order. If CCS has satisfied all the requirements to minimise pollution then it will be unfair to keep them closed but if there is political interference and figures have been manipulated, then that’s another issue,” Mr Sinkamba said.
He called for more funding to ZEMA for the procurement of air monitoring equipment to enable the agency to consistently monitor pollution.
“ZEMA only has one air monitoring equipment, which moves to the site when there is a problem that has been reported. We also need operators to produce print-outs in real time of their emissions,” Mr Sinkamba said.
ZEMA principal information and communication officer Irene Lungu-Chipili said in a statement that inspections have revealed that CCS Limited has put in place adequate rehabilitation and operational measures to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions to the satisfaction of ZEMA but the details remain vague.
ZEMA issued an Environmental Restoration Order to CCS Limited on February 11, 2013, pursuant to Section 105 of the EMA Act number 12 of 2011.
Mrs Chipili said joint inspection was conducted by officials from Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Ministry of Health and Kalulushi Municipal Council to verify the concerns raised by the affected farmers.
Mrs Chipili on the record admitted damage to the crops saying, “The inspection revealed that there was a general visible injury to some crops and natural plants, which could have been caused by acid rain induced by high levels of sulphur dioxide emissions into the atmosphere from CCS, contrary to Section 105 (1) of the EMA Act Number 12 of 2011.”
CCS refines 150,000 tonnes of copper concentrates per year, which means that the refinery produces about 411 tonnes on a daily basis at optimum capacity.