RESIDENTS of Mufulira's Kankoyo township say they have suffered serious air pollution due to excessive sulphur dioxide emissions discharged from Mopani Copper Mine's smelter.
But Mopani Copper Mines says it is maintaining its plants diligently without exceeding the approved limits as it was currently capturing 50 per cent of the sulphur dioxide emissions.
Many residents of Kankoyo that travelled to Kitwe in minibuses stormed The Post offices and complained that their health was at serious risk as many people including children were suffering from respiratory infections due to massive sulphur dioxide emissions from MCM's Mufulira smelter.
The residents led by Christopher Nkhata, the chairman of a local environmental organisation called Green and Justice, said people had developed health complications and left the town for other safer places due to excessive sulphur dioxide emissions.
Nkhata said the emissions had become unbearable for the people as some of them were even developing sight problems.
"Because of poverty we cannot do anything but come to the media to complain and pray that some authority somewhere will take action. People are collapsing in the streets due to these emissions. We have people that are asthmatic and they have been forced to relocate. The situation is just unbearable; our children are getting strange infections and failing to breathe properly. We need help from Mopani, the government and all authorities involved," Nkhata said.
He said the residents of Kankoyo wanted Mopani to expedite the process of implementing its new smelter that would capture the sulphur dioxide to protect the lives of the people and the environment.
And responding to a press query, MCM head of public relations Cephas Sinyangwe stated that in order to deal with the problem of sulphur dioxide emissions, Mopani had embarked on a phased modernisation of the smelter through the smelter upgrade project.
Sinyangwe said since completion of phase one of the project in 2006, Mopani had been capturing 50 per cent of the sulphur dioxide emissions.
"The Zambian authorities approved this level of emissions, and we are maintaining the plant diligently to enable us to operate without exceeding this limit. At inception in the year 2000, MCM inherited a smelter that had been discharging 100 per cent sulphur emissions into the atmosphere since it was commissioned in 1937. As part of the conditions for the acquisition of the two assets, Nkana and Mufulira operations, Mopani committed itself to addressing this historical environmental liability over a period of 15 years up to June 2015," Sinyangwe stated.
He stated that the final phase of the smelter upgrade project would be completed by June 2015.
Sinyangwe said due to the importance that Mopani attached to environmental protection and human safety, the company had brought forward the deadline for completion of the project by more than a year.
"We are currently undertaking the third and final phase of the project which would lead to 97 per cent sulphur capture in a few months, which is within internationally acceptable standards," he stated.
He said Mopani proved its commitment to a clean and safe environment by investing approximately US$450 million to put to an end the historical problem of sulphur dioxide emissions.