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Scancem factory in Ghana a health threat: Cement dust leaves workers dead and blinded

In 1991, 26 workers at Scancem’s cement factory in Ghana, GHACEM, were dismissed allegedly because the enterprise was overstaffed. Today seven of them are dead and three have lost their eyesight due to dust pollution from the factories. NorWatch has obtained a fresh report claiming that the local population is suffering from grave health and environmental problems in connection with Scancem’s activities. The report criticizes GHACEM for refusing to provide information as to what types of releases the cement factory generates. Scancem finds the criticism puzzling, and says that its company in Ghana is a model enterprise as concerns the environment.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
In 1991, 26 workers at Scancem’s cement factory in Ghana, GHACEM, were dismissed allegedly because the enterprise was overstaffed. Today seven of them are dead and three have lost their eyesight due to dust pollution from the factories. NorWatch has obtained a fresh report claiming that the local population is suffering from grave health and environmental problems in connection with Scancem’s activities. The report criticizes GHACEM for refusing to provide information as to what types of releases the cement factory generates. Scancem finds the criticism puzzling, and says that its company in Ghana is a model enterprise as concerns the environment.


By  Morten Rønning
Norwatch
 
Scancem, 33% owned by the Aker Group, has through its subsidiary GHACEM since 1967 operated two cement mills in the towns of Tema and Takoradi on the coast of Ghana. The company is owned in partnership with the Ghanese authorities, and has a monopoly on cement production in the country. NorWatch has information showing that GHACEM’s activities have been subject to critical attention from the press and environmentalists in the country.

The weekly newspaper "Free Press" from the end of August, carried an article claiming that cement dust from GHACEM has killed seven workers and made three other workers blind. The fate of 26 workers dismissed by GHACEM in 1991 paints a bleak picture of the health problems at the two factories. According to Free Press, those who are still alive have lost their eyesight or are suffering from other ailments as a consequence of the pollution.

GHACEM boss Tor Nygaard tells NorWatch on the telephone from Ghana that the dust pollution has no connection with the deaths and the health problems.

- We have annual health checks of our employees, and they show nothing abnormal. In the period from March 1995 to March 1996 the international company SGS-Environment carried out monthly dust monitoring of the surrounding area. The conclusion was that the dust pollution was not harmful for human health. Because GHACEM is so visible, it’s easy to blame us. And it’s not difficult to get such articles printed in newspapers in this country, he says.

Blinded and fired
Three of the dismissed workers, Samuel Asare, Twoukel Adzede, and J.K. Essel, went on their own initiative to Free Press to tell their stories. The 50-year-old J.K. Essel is blind on one eye and has facial paralyses. According to a medical report written by Dr. David Adiepena at the Korle-Bu Hospital, Essel’s health problems stem from GHACEM’s dust pollution. When Essel’s health deteriorated, he was dismissed without any compensation. The two other men were dismissed after having worked at GHACEM for 17 and 20 years, respectively.

- One day I was summoned by the management who sent me home with a check worth 6 million cedis (about NOK 22,000) after having worked for them for 20 years. I received no other support or compensation, says the 49-year-old Samuel Asare to Free Press.

Asare claims that his eyes were injured in 1992 due to cement dust, and that he had to have treatment for several months. When his health deteriorated, GHACEM gave him a job cleaning toilets, until his health problems became even worse and he lost his job. Today Asare is permanently blind, as is Twoukel Adzede. According to GHACEM’s own rules the company is supposed to pay for treatment of work-related health problems. But the three blind ex-workers claim that GHACEM’s clinic at the Tema factory has refused to treat them.

"Mortality rate normal"
The ex-workers say that GHACEM previously imported Norwegian dust masks to protect the workers, but that they now use masks of much lower quality produced locally. Scancem’s representative in Ghana, Mr. Adu, rejects any criticism of the company’s subsidiary. He says that the workers get all the equipment necessary to ensure that their working conditions are safe.

- The mortality rate for people having worked here is not extraordinary, but normal for the cement industry, Mr. Adu tells Free Press.

However, he admits that although in his opinion the company is taking all precautions, a certain level of pollution cannot be avoided, a fact that he regrets.

Nygaard says that the necessary protective equipment is available, but admits that the company should make stronger efforts to see to it that the employees use this equipment. But he presents to NorWatch a series of measures implemented by GHACEM the last 3-4 years, and says dust pollution is not a problem.

- We have installed new dust filters at the plants, paved the roads from the dock area to the factory, a road that is being watered during transport, and we have improved our packing plant with modern equipment,” says Nygaard.

Zero information
At the same time as the press is focusing on health conditions at GHACEM’s factories, NorWatch has received a report about the company’s activities made by Friends of the Earth in Ghana (FoE).

The organization has visited the plants several times, talked to workers and the local population, and obtained health statistics from a local clinic at GHACEM’s plant in Tema. The report starts out by strongly criticizing GHACEM for showing no will to inform the people about the environmental problems:

"Information is just not available from GHACEM. There is no openness with regard to the company’s activities, which makes it difficult to carry out this study. Representatives of the Tema factory flatly refused to provide any information. (...) Only very little information was available from the Takoradi factory."

Nygaard says that this is not a very fitting description.

- We welcome everybody to our enterprises, whether they are journalists or environmentalists. It is not our strategy at all not to be open, he says.

- But why were the people from FoE turned away?

- I don’t know, we’ve not been able to find out when they came and who they talked to. But many people come to our gate for a number of reasons, answers Nygaard.

According to the FoE report it is crucial that GHACEM change its attitude to the local community and public opinion, and that the company provide information to relevant agencies so that the environmental problems can be solved.

The report, for example, points to the fact that the Takoradi factory releases waste into the ocean assumed to contain chemicals harmful to marine ecology. But there is no available information from GHACEM regarding the nature of this waste. On this matter the report has the following conclusion:

"Given GHACEM’s total information blackout, the identified environmental problems could be only the tip of the iceberg." Nygaard says that NorWatch is welcome to send the environmentalists back again, and that they then will be shown what GHACEM is doing.

Health threats
The report claims that FoE’s studies reveal that GHACEM’s operations represent a serious threat to the health of the local population. FoE has obtained statistics at the health center in Manhean, a residential area very close to GHACEM’s factory in Tema. The statistics show that, next to malaria, respiratory tract infections, skin diseases and diarrhea are the most prevalent health problems. The development when it comes to respiratory tract infections is dramatic: In 1994 the Manhean clinic recorded 644 cases, whereas the statistics for the following year show 1,291 cases, more than double. According to the report, medical experts see a clear connection between GHACEM’s operations and the respiratory tract/skin problems.

- When our health controls show that our workers are doing fine, it’s hard to understand that other people should have a problem with dust pollution from our factories, is Tor Nygaard’s comment on this issue. According to the report, factory workers receive free medical treatment at the company clinic as long as they are employed. However, the report is critical to the fact that the local population must pay for treatment of pollution-related health problems. In addition to the air pollution from the factories, the report also points to dust problems at the dock areas, where clinker (raw material for the cement mills) is imported and unloaded. The report does make a note of the fact that for the harbour in Tema the problems have been significantly reduced after GHACEM installed a sprinkler system in March 1996.

- We have four sprinkler systems, and the press was present when we started them up, says Nygaard.

Not satisfactory
According to Ghana’s environmental authorities, GHACEM is required to submit an environment plan indicating measures aimed at reducing pollution from the factories. In connection with their study, Friends of the Earth contacted the authorities to take a look at GHACEM’s environment plan, and found it to be far from satisfactory: The plan contains insufficient information about production processes, use of raw materials, etc., for effective combating of environmental problems. The level and nature of GHACEM’s releases into the air and the water are not specified. The environmental authorities have plans for more efficient cooperation with GHACEM, and they will ask the company to submit a far more comprehensive environment plan.

- This is totally new to me. We have a good working relationship with the environmental authorities in the country, and we have been called a model enterprise in this context, says Nygaard.

"Why are we being exposed to harmful substances, when white workers at the parent company in Norway are protected against the same substances?"
GHACEM ex-workers to Free Press, August 21-27, 1996

Aker/Scancem in Ghana
Scancem has since 1967 been involved in cement operations in Ghana through its subsidiary GHACEM. Scancem owns 59.5% of the company, and the Ghanese state owns 40%. Aker and the Swedish company Euroc each owned 50% of Scancem until spring 1996. Today Aker owns 33% of Scancem. RGI is the principal stockholder in Aker, and Bjørn Rune Gjelsten is chairman of the board. Major stockholders include Orkla and the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme Fund.

Norwatch Newsletter 7/96

- Annonse -