Holding Polluters Accountable in South Africa

Community activist Samson Mokoena of Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance holds up tar covered hands after touching contaminated groundwater in AMSA’s monitoring borehole. PHOTO: James Oatway for the CER

The world’s largest steel producer, ArcelorMittal, was fined this month for violating three atmospheric emission license conditions at its Vanderbijlpark operations, south of Johannesburg.
Attorneys at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) have collaborated with ELAW for years to help the community-based Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance (VEJA) hold ArcelorMittal’s Vanderbijlpark facility accountable for polluting practices.
In a recent interview in Business Report, CER attorney Michelle Koyama said:
“High levels of air pollution have devastating impacts on human health and wellbeing. If large industrial companies fail to address their pollution and emissions, they will continue to face litigation and prosecution in accordance with the law. This includes the Deadly Air litigation instituted last year.”
ELAW Staff Scientist Dr. Mark Chernaik helped analyze ArcelorMittal South Africa’s (AMSA) 7,000-page Master Plan, which was released in 2015 following a successful CER case instituted on VEJA’s behalf, which commenced with a request for access to environmental information. When this was refused by AMSA, VEJA challenged the decision through litigation and succeeded. It also won the appeal AMSA instituted against that judgement in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

ArcelorMittal’s steel mill in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa. PHOTO: James Oatway for the CER

Since the Master Plan was finalized long ago in 2003, CER was interested in whether pollution still continued at the Vanderbijlpark operations. In a recent email, Michelle writes:
“Mark generously helped us with his time and expertise in analyzing and interpreting scientific information related to water, ground, and soil pollution data in AMSA’s various annual and bi-annual External Audit Reports (in relation to its Air Emission License (AEL), Water Use License (WUL), and others); air and water quality sample data documents; and land contamination site assessment reports.
This assisted us in asking pertinent and relevant questions and information from AMSA, and also helped us draft relevant letters to various government departments to alert them to the pollution still occurring at the AMSA Vanderbijlpark site. It has helped us keep the pressure up on governmental departments to take action against AMSA. Some of this work would not have been possible without the thoughtful, detailed scientific interpretation and input from Mark.”
Reflecting on the court order, Mark notes that while AMSA was fined for allowing excess hydrogen sulfide emissions, the R3.64 million ($200,000) fine is modest.
Mark is now working with CER to advance the argument that steel-making furnaces fueled by coking plants should be replaced by carbon-free processes that are already coming online in Finland and Sweden, and already in the process of being commissioned in Germany by AMSA’s parent company, ArcelorMittal.
Congratulations CER! We are impressed with your persistence over many years to hold AMSA accountable. 

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide

For more information, see:
Business Report, June 11, 2020
ArcelorMittal SA slapped with a R3.64m fine

Statement from South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment
Summons for the criminal charges