Kuils River residents are accusing the Cape Town Iron and Steel Works company (Cisco) of violating their human rights, by exposing them to extreme levels of noise and air pollution as they operate for 24 hours a day.
Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel visited the Cisco industrial plant in Fabriek Street last Wednesday, May 30, to celebrate its reopening, after eight years, with the Turkish owners, DHT Holdings.
According to a statement issued by Mr Patel, DHT Holdings invested R55 million into upgrading the industrial plant with the hope of creating more than 300 jobs in the coming years and uplifting the country’s infrastructure.
Cisco was established in the 1960s and operated until 2010.
During the company’s shutdown period, housing development began in Kuils River in areas such as Vredelust, Jagtershof, St Duma’s, Highbury and Silver Oaks.
According to residents, when they purchased their homes they were under the impression that the factory would no longer be operating.
However, in October 2017 the industrial plant was purchased by DHT Holdings, which continued trading as Cisco.
Residents describe October as the “time their nightmares began”.
They say they have complained to Cisco on several occasions, that the air pollution is causing health problems, the 24-hour noise is interrupting sleep and the explosions damaging their properties, but concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
Residents established a non-profit organisation called “Save Kuils River environmental action group”, to take legal action against Cisco, but say they don’t have enough funding.
According to the residents, they turned to the City of Cape Town for help and lodged official complaints.
The City’s Environmental Health Department was sent out to measure the sound pressure over a 24-hour period and found that readings were 11 decibels over the legal seven.
In January, the City of Cape Town informed the residents that after measuring the noise limits, a legal notice was served on Cisco to reduce the noise and a docket for prosecution was lodged for contravening the Western Cape Noise Control Regulations.
The matter was heard at the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court on March 6 and April 3, both court cases were appealed by Cisco. The next court date was set for June 28.
Bongani Mjkelo, a Jagtershof resident, said the operations at Cisco have badly affected their lives.
“I live very close to Cisco, approximately 80 meters away. I have a five-month-old baby who cannot sleep, especially at night.
“When an explosion happens, you can’t have a cup of coffee at the table or it will begin to shake. I cannot take the taste and smell of the metal in my throat. There are cracks in my wall and when I tell Cisco about it, they say they have been in the area longer than residents. There’s not even an apology,” he said.
Stacy de Wet, who lives in Silver Oaks, said she moved to the area in May 2012 and is now considering selling her home.
“This has become the worst area to live in. My family is constantly sick. We wake up with itchy eyes and burning noses. My (five-year-old) son was not born with asthma but now uses medication for a wheezy chest.”
She said she and her husband used a magnet to collect the dust particles floating in the air and in their pool. “The particles floating around us are deadly. I am a cancer survivor and I would like to keep it that way,” she said.
Alister Human from Vredelust, chairperson of the Save Kuils River environmental action group, said the residents of Kuils River did not deserve to be exposed to such detrimental noise and emission levels.
He said that Cisco had replied to his complaints and said that “they are complying with sound regulations of their licence” and that adjustments would be made to their machinery to have the noise reduced.
Mr Human said the noise had dropped but not at a rate that was satisfactory.
“It sounds like a construction site and the noise carries on right through the night, residents still have a problem with it. The workers at the site are not from our area. Once they leave the workplace they can sleep peacefully.”
“We understand that they (Cisco) have rights and are looking forward to creating job opportunities, but these are our homes. Yes, they were here before us and that’s why we don’t understand how the building plans of these properties were approved,” he added.
Cisco told Northern News they “are committed to comply to all legislative requirements pertaining” to their operations.
General manager Heinrich Kriel said the City granted the company a Provisional Atmospheric Emission Licence (PAEL) in September 2017, which is valid for one year.
He added that sound silencers were installed on the company’s fume plants on March 6, March 9 and April 28 and fans were closed.
In terms of pollution, he said: “The repairs of the old roof structures ensure that no fugitive emissions escape through it and that it is captured by the installed abatement equipment, known as bag houses, of which the minimum emission limits are specified in the PAEL.
“Continuous maintenance and monitoring are undertaken on the abatement equipment (and) compliance monitoring are undertaken according to the PAEL requirements”, he said.
“Explosions associated with the operations during the processing of light scrap at the shredder were noted and that typically happens with the processing of vehicle bodies, fuel tanks and possible gas cylinders.”
Asked if there was a solution to have no explosions, he said, “Fuel tanks in car bodies get punctured and gas bottles are removed. All these controls are incorporated into onsite procedures.”
Mr Kriel said: “As an operation we are zoned industrial and we are complying with the applicable noise limits on the boundary of our operations.”
Mayoral committee member for area east, Anda Ntsodo said after the start of the operations in 2017, the City’s Air Quality and Noise Control Units started receiving complaints regarding excessive noise being emitted by Cisco and also that periodically, emissions were excessive.
He said in December 2017, a compliance inspection was conducted at the industrial plant by inspectors from the City’s Air Quality Management Unit and Western Cape Government: Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) and found the facility to be compliant with the conditions of thePAEL issued in September 2017.
“Since commissioning the facility in October 2017, they have confirmed that they have completed roof maintenance, which included the replacement of roof material, as well as sealing of the roof structure to prevent fugitive emissions escaping through the roof to atmosphere,” he said.
He said testing took place at the Cisco plant during the course of last week and that a preliminary report is to be presented on June 8 and a final report is due on June 30.
“A process is also currently underway to vary Cisco’s Provisional Atmospheric Emission Licence, in order to tighten up on the conditions of authorisation and improve environmental protection,” he said.
Regarding to the disturbing noise, he said numerous complaints had been received from the public and investigations into the matter are still ongoing.
“The City’s Noise Control Unit initiated a prosecution in the Blue Downs Magistrate’s Court for a contravention of the Western Cape Noise Control Regulations. This case is ongoing. The community is aware of this date and are welcome to attend the court proceedings as well,” he said.
* According to their website, Cisco is a scrap-based steelmaking company.
The scrap is processed in a scrap yard adjacent to the plant before it is loaded into scrap buckets which are then charged into the electric furnace.
The electric arc furnace melts the scrap down into molten steel, which is then transported to a machine were it is cast into billets.
The billets, which are rectangular pieces of steel, are heated up to 1 280°C before being rolled, cooled down and cut to length.