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Rand Carbide fined R3m for pollution crimes in biggest fine ever

17 August 2011 at 6:00 pm

Department of Environmental Affairs Media Statement, 17 August 2011

DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS WELCOMES SENTENCING OF SILICON SMELTERS FOR CONTRAVENING ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATION

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) today welcomed the sentencing of Silicon Smelters who were found guilty of contravening the provisions of the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act (NEM:AQA), for operating without an atmospheric emission licence. In addition, Silicon Smelters was found guilty of contravening the provisions of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) by unlawfully and intentionally committing an act which caused or was likely to cause significant pollution to the environment.

The case was decided by the Pretoria Regional Court on 15 August 2011, after Silicon Smelters pleaded guilty and entered into a plea and sentence agreement. For the NEM:AQA, Silicon Smelters was fined two million rand (R 2 000 000), half of which was suspended for five years on condition that Silicon Smelters is not found guilty of contravening any other provision of the NEM:AQA.

For the second offence, they were fined one million rand (R 1 000 000), half of which was suspended for five years on condition that Silicon Smelters is not found guilty of contravening any other provision of the NEMA. In total, the company was fined three million Rand (R 3 000 000) and paid one-and-a-half million rand (R 1 500 000) in fines at the court on Monday.

Silicon Smelters, also known as Rand Carbide, is located in Witbank and was inspected by the Environmental Management Inspectorate, popularly referred to as the Green Scorpions, on 03 November 2010. This inspection was initiated after the Green Scorpions received complaints from the public in the vicinity of the facility.

The Green Scorpions determined that Silicon Smelters was operating several of their metallurgical processes without authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management:  Air Quality Act No. 39 of 2004 (“NEM:AQA”), which is unlawful in terms of Section 22 of the NEM:AQA. It was also noted that certain processes were being operated in a manner which resulted in or was likely to result in significant pollution and degradation of the environment, which is unlawful in terms of Section 28(14) of the National Environmental Management Act (107 of 1998) (“NEMA”).

The manner in which these processes were conducted also failed to comply with the legislative requirements which had been in place as early as 1983. These processes included the combustion of coal and smelting of ores, which resulted in emissions containing lead, iron, manganese and nitrogen oxides. Dust emissions from the facility also measured as high as 1380 mg/Nm³, which is far higher than the legislated limit of 100 mg/Nm³.

In response to the findings, the DEA instituted criminal proceedings and also issued Silicon Smelters with a Notice of Intent to issue a Compliance Notice in early 2011.

In response to the action of the DEA, Silicon Smelters went to substantial lengths to come into compliance with the provisions of the law, including but not limited to installing and / or improving the extraction systems at furnaces, installing water sprayers for dust suppression on raw material stockpiles and construction of stockpile enclosures. The value of the completed improvements amount to nearly thirteen million rand (R 13 000 000), according to Silicon Smelters.

Albi Modise, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs said, “The Department views this ruling as a victory that sets an important precedent in terms of the type of penalties that companies can face for contravening the NEM:AQA.  The Green Scorpions are in the process of investigating a number of other large companies within the Highveld priority area in respect of contraventions of this Act.”

Modise went on to say that the ruling sends out a strong message to all that the Department will not hesitate to enforce the law where it is clear that contraventions of environmental legislation has occurred.