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Partner has huge environmental problems, but Borregaard's ligno-sulphonate plant is welcomed

The giant pulp manufacturer Sappi Saiccor is a major polluter in the town of Umkomaas in South Africa. Currently, there is a discussion about moving a primary school located close to the factory, in order to protect the pupils from the health risks connected to outlets from the plant. Local fishermen and divers are angry because of the waste the company dumps in the Indian Ocean. Scandinavian companies have supplied approximately one half of Saiccor's equipment, including approximately 75% of a magnesium based pulp plant, which was installed in 1993. This plant is still run without the required certificates for atmospheric emissions.

A new plant, which will make commercial products out of some of the ligno-sulphonate that Saiccor at present dumps in the sea, is being constructed in co-operation with the Norwegian company Borregaard. After a visit to Umkomaas, NorWatch is under the impression that Borregaard's project is welcomed.

Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.

The giant pulp manufacturer Sappi Saiccor is a major polluter in the town of Umkomaas in South Africa. Currently, there is a discussion about moving a primary school located close to the factory, in order to protect the pupils from the health risks connected to outlets from the plant. Local fishermen and divers are angry because of the waste the company dumps in the Indian Ocean. Scandinavian companies have supplied approximately one half of Saiccor's equipment, including approximately 75% of a magnesium based pulp plant, which was installed in 1993. This plant is still run without the required certificates for atmospheric emissions.

A new plant, which will make commercial products out of some of the ligno-sulphonate that Saiccor at present dumps in the sea, is being constructed in co-operation with the Norwegian company Borregaard. After a visit to Umkomaas, NorWatch is under the impression that Borregaard's project is welcomed.


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen og Marte Rostvåg Ulltveit-Moe
Norwatch

Sappi Saiccor is Africa's biggest manufacturer of bleached pulp. The factory was constructed in 1955, by the Umkomaas River in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Today the factory is a corner industry in the town of Umkomaas. During the years of its operation, there have been many complaints about Saiccor's outlets to the atmosphere, the river and the sea from fishermen, divers, the tourist industry, and other inhabitants of Umkomaas.

During the latest years, some actions have been taken in order to reduce the problems. In spite of this, the problems are still significant, and amongst the local fishermen there are people that would prefer to see Saiccor being closed down because the outlets to the sea chase away the fish. Saiccor is now extending their pipeline into the Indian Ocean with 3.5 km; it will eventually reach 6.5 km out to the sea. One of the big problems with the production has been outlets of acidics and ligno-sulphonate. This has had a negative effect on the visibility on the Aliwal Shoal, an area with significant biodiversity and one of the major attractions to divers in South Africa. Aliwal Shoal is situated only 5 km off the shore of Umkomaas. From time to time, the beaches are filled with industrial foam created by the outlets. One of the things Saiccor has done in order to reduce the problems, is to start constructing a ligno-sulphonate plant in co-operation with the Norwegian company Borregaard.

Black Sea
Angela Rankin is the Principal Water Pollution Control Officer in KwaZulu-Natal in the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. She explains that Saiccor's liquid effluents are not only discharged through the marine pipeline. Saiccor also discharges cooling water, backwash water and storm water into the Umkomaas river.

- March 1997, there was a major fish kill in the Umkomaas river, and a strong smell of sulphur. From what we observed, the fish kill was from the Saiccor factory site and downstream. To us, this is a strong indication that Saiccor is responsible for it.

Unfortunately, the pollution control officer in charge did not take any samples of the river water during the fish kill, says Andy Cobb, a diving instructor and member of the South Coast Pipeline Forum.

- If anything happens in this area Saiccor is blamed. No matter what, we are blamed. We were not responsible for last years fish kill in the Umkomaas River. All our measurements indicated conditions were normal, says Sinclair Stone, operations director in Sappi Saiccor, to NorWatch.

- The effluent discharged to sea contains a high concentration of lignin, the structural component of wood. Approximately 80 to 90 %. The effluent also contains sulphates, and other organics and inorganics from the process. The effluent is acidic, and is discharged at pH 3-4, says Angela Rankin, and then adds;

- The emission from Saiccor to the sea has had a negative impact on the visibility at the Aliwal Shoal.

Rankin explains that last time Saiccor extended the pipeline, the number of complaints about polluted sea decreased. But then the company increased their production by 45%. This was possible because their old permits allowed for a higher production level than the 1995 production. After that, the number of complaints increased again.

-12 % of the year, there is no current in the sea. The consequence is that there is insufficient mix and the effluent remains toxic, says Andy Cobb.

- In order to get neutral effluents, the mix ratio with seawater must be 12 000:1. But the time of the year with no current, e.g. June and July, the mix ratio is only 460:1, he continues.

- In August 1995, the sea was black for 28 days over 10 km, from Scottsborough to Isipingo. Eventually, it did clear up. But such an amount of light exclusion must have some ecological effects, says Glen Jansen, a local diver and fisherman who is also worried about the situation for the plankton.

- We have carried out experiments which shows that when plankton passes through the black sea, 50% of it is killed. But there is no money for extended research on this, says Jansen.

- As far as 100 km south of the Umkomaas River, dives have been cancelled because of black sea due to Saiccor effluents. They keep extending the pipeline, now it reaches 3.5 kilometres out to the sea. But the Agulhas current creates a shear wall and traps effluent emissions along the coast, says Cobb. He makes it clear that industrial outlets are not the only problem for the fisheries in the area. Overfishing from foreign trawlers is also a problem.

Glen Jansen tells that game fish, e.g. the king mackerel, are being chased away by the Saiccor effluents. He also says that many of the fishermen in the area would prefer to see Saiccor closed down. Glen Jansen has organized a car sticker campaign: "Saiccor pollutes our sea".

- I have had people deface my car because of that, Jansen says dryly.

"As far as 100 kilometres south of the Umkomaas River, dives have been cancelled because of black sea due to Saiccor effluents."
Andy Cobb, diving instructor, Umkomaas

Positive reactions, but.
The technology from Borregaard will utilize parts of Saiccor's waste to produce lignin products. The plant, which will be completed in September this year, will have a production capacity of 55,000 tons. This is slightly more than 10% of the ligno-sulphonate that Saiccor now discharges in the sea.

According to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, the ligno-sulphonate plant, together with the new extension of the pipeline, will have a very good effect. Cobb and Jansen are positive to the idea, but do not give too many compliments:
- The ligno-sulphonate plant takes away only the tip of the emissions. If Borregaard utilizes their maximum capacity of 200,000 tons, there is still 250,000 tons left to be removed, says Cobb, and then he adds;

- The new ligno-sulphonate plant will bring the outlets back to the 1995-levels, only. I see this ligno-sulphonate plant as a quick fix, but no final solution to reducing colour in the ocean.

Borregaard is not promising such a high production. Their involvement is purely for commercial purposes, and they do not want to produce more lignin than the world market wants. The plan is to start at 55,000 tons, and no decisions concerning increased production have been taken.

In a letter to NorWatch, Borregaard describes environmental advantages of lignin, especially as a plasticiser in concrete. According to the company, the effect is that the cement is distributed better in the concrete, and the result is that one can use less cement in concrete without reducing the quality. The consequence of this is in turn reduced CO2-emissions because of reduced cement consumption, writes Borregaard's PRO Dag Arthur Aasboe.

The school must be moved!
Neville Burgess is one of the local inhabitants that have fought against Saiccor for many years because of the company's atmospheric emissions.

- The calcium part of the pulp production is a health risk. There is a lot of steam, and there are high SO2 emissions from that part of the plant. The magnesium plant is, as far as I know, not legal. They do not have the required emissions permits for it, says Burgess. According to Saiccor's own figures, the factory daily emits 18 tons of SO2 in the valley where the company is located (January).

- Where are the emission permits for the ligno-sulphonate plant? They do not exist! And yet they have started construction, Burgess told NorWatch in January.
A spray drier to the ligno-sulphonate plant will use heavy fuel oil as energy source, and the result will be additional emissions of SO2.

Borregaard and Saiccor have now reached an agreement with the Department of Environmental Affairs, which is in charge of atmospheric pollution. Gerrit Coetzee in the Department of Environmental Affairs confirm in a letter to NorWatch that emission permits for atmospheric emissions were non-existing when the construction of the ligno-sulphonate plant started. The companies also lacked an approval for the choice of site.

- Saiccor is located in the wrong place, down in this valley you saw. Emissions can cause high environmental impact there (.) Anyway, there is little we can do about that now, says Coetzee. He considers the new ligno-sulphonate plant as part of Sappi Saiccor, and will not accept any increase in SO2 emissions from the company.

- Location of the new ligno-sulphonate plant is an issue. They could place it outside the valley. Anyway, they should not have started preparatory work on the plant before getting an approval for the choice of site, Coetzee said in January. Coetzee confirms that Saiccor is running the magnesium-based plant without the required permits. He also confirms that the company still does not deliver reliable, daily reports of atmospheric emissions, but he hopes this will happen soon. Coetzee hopes to get a direct electronic link to the company's database.

Saiccor have put up a plan to reduce the total SO2-emissions by 20% from the pulp production and the ligno-sulphonate plant, seen in relation to the 18 tons the factory emitted in January. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the present emissions are 14 tons per day. This is the situation after some improvements have taken place at Saiccor, but before the ligno-sulphonate plant have started to produce. The Department is satisfied with this plan, and has now approved the chosen site.

Borregaard writes in a letter to NorWatch that there will be installed a scrubber in the ligno-sulphonate plant, which will reduce the SO2 emissions by 50%. This is confirmed in the plant's EIA.

But Neville Burgess still wants to move the local primary school, the Drift School, which is located 150 m from the plant.

- The SO2 concentration in the air in this valley is too high for these kids, and there is also a security risk in case of an accident at the plant to have young kids that near, says Burgess. He also says that the Department of Education in 1996 said that the school should be moved. The reason why the process is moving slowly is that the school authorities are not sure of the financial situation, and also don't know where to construct the new school.

Saiccor says to NorWatch that they have accepted to pay for the construction of a new school, and that as far as they are concerned, the process is moving so slowly because of bureaucracy.

A couple of years ago, a CAER committee (Community Awareness Emergency Response) was established, where Saiccor together with the inhabitants of Umkomaas should go through health problems and environmental problems. Burgess was a member of the CAER-committee, but he withdrew because he saw the committee as a propaganda-machine for the company:

- They fixed the minutes from the meetings, so that critical points were either written in a wrong way or completely let out. I could not take part in a CAER committee like that.
- We have had many meetings on the issue of air quality. Saiccor does not use their measuring instruments properly. They classify bad results, and they have classified the health risk assessment they made, says Neville Burgess in despair.

Burgess was one of the inhabitants of Umkomaas that signed a community-petition against Saiccor some years ago. In this petition, the company is described as a security risk to its neighbours, an environmental threat, and the slowing factor in the process of moving the Drift school. They claim that the company was blessed with advantages such as paying no community taxes during 40 years of apartheid rule, and they demand that the local community which have paid the true costs must be compensated. The signatories of the petition are opposed to any expansion of the Saiccor operations.

"I believe about two thirds of the new plant is originally Scandinavian. And I would say that about half of all our equipment, if we count them together. If I should value them, I would guess the approximate cost price is R 1 billion (1.7 billion NOK)."
Sinclair Stone, operations director of Sappi Saiccor

Bad reputation
Everybody NorWatch spoke to about this case, except people employed by Saiccor and Borregaard, had a lot of negative things to say about Saiccor's performance. But most people were under the impression that there had been improvements the last year.

- Negotiations with Saiccor were difficult as this is an important industry in South Africa, particularly on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast as it provides much needed job opportunities.
- I believe we are on track with Saiccor now. They seem more willing to communicate on these issues. But there is still a long way to go before the target of ensuring the receiving water resource is maintained in a condition that is suitable for all users, says Angela Rankin.

- Saiccor does not have a very good history. Previously, all results from research on environmental damage used to go from the government paid agency C.S.I.R. to the industry without being released, says Andy Cobb.

- In 1995, Saiccor promised that they would not increase the level of effluents to the sea. But the complaints escalated after the 45% increase in production later that year, with a 45% increase in effluent, Cobb continues, and makes it clear:

- The level of trust between what Saiccor says and does is zero. The public is apathetic, knowing that the big money wins. (.) The management of Saiccor has a history of lying to the public. They (Saiccor) have always blackmailed the government with job reductions.

But even Andy Cobb sees that there have been improvements:

- There is some honest people working for Saiccor now. There has been a certain amount of change in attitude, to the better. I do not want to close the entire Saiccor down, but I want to pressurize them to have their effluents reduced on a planned basis within economic limits.

- Luckily, Saiccor is a financially sound industry that could afford change. I think that Saiccor can be used as an example of an industry that was in the past decades extremely bad as far as emissions to atmosphere is concerned. They have with sustained effort and continued investment in the environment, succeeded to minimize their emissions to levels that seldom exceed South-African standards, says Coetzee in the Department of Environmental affairs, when he is asked to sum up his opinion about the company.

The fisherman Glen Jansen delivers a clear verdict:

- Saiccor is very good at making friends. For instance, they paid for the renovation of the Umkomaas ski boat club (.) I would like have closed Saiccor down now, if I could. They have not been honest.

Scandinavian connections
Mr. Sinclair Stone, operations director in Saiccor, tells about the company's connections to Scandinavia through main parts of the apartheid era:

- We have been buying equipment from Scandinavia over the past 35 years. We bought a bleach plant and some pumps from Alstrom for our recent expansion, a pulp machine from Valmet, and quite a lot from ABB. ABB supplied us with the large dryer; that was ABB Fläkt from Finland. And we have a chlorine dioxide plant from Rauma here. And some pipe we bought from Finland.
Sinclair Stone also mentions Kvaerner, but he cannot recall what they bought from Kvaerner or when. A phone call to Kristin Strömberg at Kvaerner Pulping in Sweden gives the same result. She recalls that Kvaerner have sold equipment to Saiccor, and will look into the matter. A week later NorWatch is told that Kvaerner does not intend to investigate this further, and that they do not want to provide information about sales to South Africa.

- I believe about two thirds of the new plant is originally Scandinavian. And I would say that about half of all our equipment, if we count them together. If I should value them, I would guess the approximate cost price is R 1 billion (over USD 220,000,000), Stone says.

- Borregaard made their first contact with us in early 1995, but at the time we were not interested. Then another contact was made in mid-1996, and we have been planning this since then. People respond positively to the ligno-sulphonate plant, Stone says, and continues;

- They complain it hasn't been constructed earlier. The new plant will be beneficial to everybody.

- Let me explain the process to you briefly: We start with the effluent from the pulp production. At one stage in the process the effluent contains 15% ligno-sulphonate. The stream is evaporated to 50% ligno-sulphonate. The 50% solution is dried to a powder that we want in hot gas produced by burning heavy fuel oil.

- We mean a lot to this community. Directly and indirectly we create 17.000 jobs. All our pulp is exported, and that again means incomes in foreign exchange, which is healthy for the national economy. We supply water to the local community here, as well, this is a part of our agreement with the society, Stone says.

Sinclair Stone admits that there is still room for improvement:

- Ligno-sulphonates are not our only constituent of the effluent. There are also sugar, some acidics and furfural, which we may pursue commercially at some time.
Borregaard in South-Africa

Borregaard's ligno-sulphonate plant in Umkomaas, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, has a budget of NOK 140 millions and is owned in a joint venture with Saiccor. Each company holds a 50% share. The plant, which will be operational in September 1998, will produce 55,000 tons of lignin pr year, and can with minor adjustments increase the production to 200,000 tons. Most of the ligno-sulphonate from the plant will be used in concrete production.

Sappi Saicor
Saiccor (South African Industrial Cellulose Corporation) is a fully owned subsidiary of the South African company Sappi Ltd. The company has an annual turnover of 300 millions US $, and is 100% export orientated. The bulk of Saiccor's timber, mainly eucalyptus, but also acacia and other species, comes from Sappi's own plantations. The oldest part of the plant, which was constructed in 1955, is calcium-based. In 1993/94 the company increased its production by putting up a magnesium-based plant. This plant has been operating since 1995 without the required certificates for atmospheric emissions. Some key figures for Saiccor: The company processes 2 million tons timber per year. They consume 54,000 tons of sulphur, 240,000 tons of coal and 33,000 tons caustic soda per annum. Each day, the company takes out 120 million liters of water from the Umkomaas River.

Norwatch Newsletter 13/98

- Annonse -