HAS anyone ever wondered how the importers of our manganese ore deal with the air pollution that Transnet and the mining companies seem so completely unable to deal with here in Port Elizabeth? Well, in South Korea, at Hyundai Steel in Incheon, imported manganese and iron ore goes straight from the ship into giant domes.
Apparently, this geodesic dome enclosure system is more efficient in terms of storage and transfer of these materials, and also cheaper because no expensive nets are needed for trapping dust. The other old dust trapping method using water sprinklers is also not needed, meaning a saving on water.
According to Hyundai Steel, previously when it rained the water content of exposed ore dumps increased too much and it had to be evaporated before it could be worked on, meaning further costs.
Now, because the ore is under cover, its water content is kept constant. The rain water also does not carry away any of this precious material, and the waste-water treatment that used to be needed to deal with this run-off, is no longer necessary.
Stockpiling the ore this way also reduces the amount of land needed, and consequently the fuel spent moving around the site. It’s all managed in a much more contained space.
Most of all, however, enclosing the ore in this way puts a stop to all dust emissions being blown off it into the wider environment.
Inside the dome, as feedstock is needed for processing, the ore is scooped by a front-end loader onto another enclosed conveyor belt.
If they can do it that way in South Korea – protecting the environment and people at every step from the harmful affects of wind-blown ore dust – then we can too.
With the Port of Ngqura now established, there is a strong social, economic and environmental argument for moving the existing manganese terminal there, and using the freed up land to transform the PE Harbour into a waterfront.
But if we drive the manganese out of PE and across to Ngqura and do not ensure that Transnet, together with Billiton, Assamang and UMK, build a new terminal capable of trapping all air pollution, we will have failed our people and our precious natural heritage.
A primary concern is the proximity of Motherwell and Bluewater Bay. And what about our African penguins, whose stronghold on St Croix and Bird islands is in this same eastern sector of Algoa Bay as Ngqura. The species is facing enough threats to its survival from dwindling food and shelter to climate change and fiercer storms (all of which mankind has had a hand in). It doesn’t need another one.
If we encourage Transnet to move to Ngqura without getting them to commit to a sealed-off enclosure system, then we will be as culpable as them for harm done.
A feature of the Incheon system is maximum mechanisation and minimal people involvement. This is good for human health and efficiency but not good for job creation. So can it be applicable here?
There is a great and irrefutable need to find African solutions for our problems, and labour-intensiveness must be the trademark of this approach.
But there are countless ways to create environmentally friendly jobs from removing alien vegetation, mending potholes, patrolling protected areas, planting spekboom and helping farmers protect their flocks from predators. These are not jobs to be scoffed at. This is honourable work and government needs to roll out a comprehensive employment strategy in this regard.
But at the same time we have to open up this system with the best education for everyone on the one side and, on the other, making best practice our only guide. And that means investment beyond the bottom line and booting out plans guided by improper political and business interests. We have to aim to be best, which also means best at taking care of our environment.
Finally, I subscribe to the call for a low carbon future to fight climate change. We need to think about our own energy intensive industries, and the ones we feed with our ore. But as long as we are mining and stockpiling it – we should think of Incheon.