par Meynen, N.;Sebastien, Léa
Référence (mars 2010: Barcelone), Conference on economic degrowth for ecological sustainability and social equity
Publication Publié, 2010
Publication dans des actes
Résumé : In Hoboken, the suburb of Antwerp where UPMR (Umicore Precious Metals Refining) currently runs the world’s largest precious metals recycling unit, the link between pollution and health is intriguing. The former de-silvering plant has implemented substantial ecological modernisation since the 1970s, but 122 years of pollution has caused environmental liabilities. Soil levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium increase with proximity to the factory, as does the level of lead in the blood of toddlers and infants. Cancers are significantly more frequent in Hoboken than in Flanders or its most polluted city, Antwerp. Lung cancers, a cancer type more likely to result from the plant's activities, are double the expected amount for women. Since the early 1970s, local actors asked for cleaner air and decontamination. In 2004, the company finally paid 77 million € for a big clean-up operation and UPMR also drastically reduced emissions. However, claims of UPMRs management to have recognised the company’s historic responsibility have so far translated mostly into cleaning up surface contamination in the nearest area. This paper sets the clean-up operation of the company within a framework of the local ecological debt, calculating the minimum amount that UPMR owes to the environment and its nearby residents, with a focus on health damages and loss of capabilities. These are the major collateral damages inflicted by UMPRs direct and recognised environmental impacts. Our calculations start from the moment the company should know from scientific and official documents that their production causes hidden external costs. The best available studies on damage to health and crops in Hoboken are combined with existing and relevant calculations on the cost of illness, the value of human life and the economic value of gardening used elsewhere. Public and non-public official registries and company records are combined with popular epidemiology. The results do not hide this diversity of sources and provide insights on how to apply the ecological debt concept to a single industrial plant. We formulate recommendations for actions to be taken by the chemical industry and by the government of Belgium. The concept of post-normal science helps to explain why the difficult exercise of calculating the local ecological debt for a single industrial plant, despite its drawbacks on accuracy, is relevant and urgently needed. The final results are indicative of the scale of indirect damages to the real economy, through the study of direct damages to the environment and to inhabitants.