Reports coming in from Brazil suggest Thyssen’s new 5 million ton-per-year steel mill at Santa Cruz near Rio may not be as environmentally well controlled as much older plants back home in Germany. According to the company, when it reaches full production, 3 million tons per year will be supplied to the processing plant also under construction near Mobile, Ala., and 2 million tons will go to ThyssenKrupp’s plants in Germany. Environmental controls in both the US and Germany are so strict, Thyssen’s apparent repeated violations reported by IPS News would not be tolerated, but in Brazil the company has so far gotten away with it.
“Air pollution in Santa Cruz is constant, and some days it is so intense that a silvery rain falls over the community, hurting people’s health, especially that of children and elderly people,” the protesters are reported as saying. Provincial lawmaker Marcelo Freixo of the Socialism and Freedom Party blames the dust pollution on graphite generated from the production of pig iron. Graphite is sometimes released as a byproduct of coke combustion in the blast furnace and although not carcinogenic, graphite dust is known to cause irritation to eyes, nose, skin and has been linked to respiratory problems such as pneumoconiosis. The plant has twice been fined for graphite dust releases, following the second of which the firm agreed to invest in better control equipment even though it claimed previous releases were one-offs.
The Rio de Janeiro state prosecutor’s office accused the company of polluting the atmosphere at levels “capable of harming human health.” IPS reports the charge was based on studies by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro’s Institute of Geosciences, which found a 600 percent increase in the average iron concentration in the area around the ironworks, compared to the period before the plant opened. There are also reports of pollution in the local bay area resulting, it is claimed, in a dramatic decline in fish stocks compared to the period prior to plant opening. Some emission problems are bound to occur with such a major new installation, but Thyssen is going to have to resolve these issues promptly if they are not to be labeled as merely exporting their environmental degradation to emerging markets rather than face tougher controls at home.