Mozal is an aluminum smelter situated in the outskirts of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, in a densely populated area. It is mostly owned by BHP Billiton, with other smaller shareholders such as Mitsubishi Corporation, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Government of Mozambique.
Built in 2000 for with a $1.3bn price tag, Mozal was the largest capital injection into Mozambique and was hailed as an important major step in Mozambique’s development, but it was not. Not only is its contribution to the country’s development insignificant, but its filter systems came near to collapse, and it bypassed its filters for 4 months, spewing toxic gases straight into the air of a densely-populated city.
Mozal’s impact on public revenue is insignificant (0.5% against 3.2% of the share of Mozal in GDP)Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco and Nicole Goldin
Mozal was built on the outskirts of Mozambique’s capital city in 2000 at a whopping $1.3bn. It was the largest capital injection into Mozambique and was hailed as an important major step in Mozambique’s development. Sadly it was not. Twelve years later Mozal’s contribution to the country’s development has been shown to be insignificant; in fact, economic studies reveal that Mozal had detrimental effects on Mozambican small and medium businesses.
In addition to failed promises, during the last decade Mozal has been perpetrating poor operating conditions, weak maintenance, bad monitoring and fundamental design faults, with numerous reports of random discharges and regular events where the filters are bypassed. There have been glaring cases of poor operating standards, including a fire in the ducts that connect the aluminium furnaces with air supply.
Another example was extensive corrosion of the filtering structure almost to the point of collapse, in a smelter that is only 12 years old. Mozal admitted that this was due to “sub-optimal engineering” and “overproduction” occurring.
Unfortunately, in 2010 the situation reached its climax and Mozal was forced to deal with the fundamental design faults and filter problems that have plagued its operations. Without any public consultations or discussions, Mozal merely informed the public that the system would need rehabilitation. Their method for rehabilitation was that the smelter would bypass its pollution filters for 4 months, emitting tars and toxic gases directly into the air, while it repaired its corroded air filter systems. The 4 months bypass period is the longest shutdown experts know of.
Given the seriousness of this pollution situation and lack of information, civil society highlighted issues and requested clarification. Unfortunately neither the government nor Mozal took these concerns seriously.
Only after several newspaper articles, interviews and television debates, and a petition demanding the bypass be immediately cancelled, did MICOA (Ministry of Environment Coordination) and Mozal finally decide to organise a public meeting. But the public meetings gave frustratingly little information. Vital documents were not made public, such as Mozal’s environmental monitoring report, dispersion and deposition of fumes and gas, even the information presented in a powerpoint at the meeting was not available. At MICOA’s office, only the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and an independent study undertaken by the University were available.
The EMP lacks clear mitigation measures, has weak to no quantitative data or analyses, doesn’t evaluate other alternatives, it doesn’t even have annexes, one of which refers to the dispersion and deposition of fumes and gas, it does mention the potential impacts of these substances but the dates don’t correlate with the interested/affected parties meetings. The independent study doesn’t give any information on its authors, date or methodology, where/ how/ when the data was gathered and we were informed publicly that the study used data from Mozal. Therefore this study isn’t credible or independent and is a stark reflection of the lack of professionalism associated with the Mozal process.
After insignificant progress at the national level, including legal action, Mozambique’s civil society were forced to submit claims internationally to some of Mozal’s main funders, which included the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Investment Bank (EIB). These claims then sparked further investigations, which are still on-going in 2012. Meanwhile, on the ground the concerns remain, around lack of transparency, weak public participation, weak monitoring, and unanswered questions of how the corrosion problems became so severe before detection. At present there are some suggestions to perform an independent environmental audit, the need to significantly improve the emissions monitoring systems and develop better communication between Mozal and civil society, and others.
Eventually Mozal bypassed its filters and continued production even before the court ruling and before the CAO and EIB investigations were finalised. They monitored air emissions during the bypass period, but did not even make the report publicly available. Nor did they monitor water discharges even though a few years ago water tests around Mozal revealed levels of fluoride more than double limits set by the World Health Organisation. Fluorides are a common by-product of aluminium smelters. Hence JA continues to monitor Mozal’s activities and demand that the concerns of civil society are addressed by Mozal.