Cement giant pollutes Lebanese coast

Feature story - 14 January, 2003
Another oil spill, slick black waters, dead birds, local fishermen's livelihoods ruined. However this spill was not caused by the usual suspects of shady operators running rusting tankers. This spill was cause by the world's biggest cement multinational Holcim based in Switzerland.

Holcim's workers with no proper equipment removing the oil spill caused by a technical fault at their plant in Kefraya, North of Lebanon.

On the evening of January 5th there was a spill of 50 tonnes of fueloil at the company's plant in north Lebanon. The oil is used to fuelthe cement kilns at the plant. When we exposed the spill the followingday Holcim accepted responsibility. However the clean up by the companyhas, so far, been completely inadequate, putting the environment andthe workers at further risk.

The response to the spill has been very slow with the clean up stillgoing on one week after the spill. Company workers on the clean upteams lack protective clothing and there is no professional supervisionto properly clean up the oil. Rocky shores are being cleaned withoutthe use of the specialised techniques required and neither the companyor the authorities have fully surveyed the area to determine the extentof the spill and damage caused. The latest 'solution' proposed byHolcim is to concrete over the rocky areas polluted by the spill. Maybea great use for some leftover Holcim cement but not exactly aenvironmentally sound clean up technique!

Holcim knows that it would not be allowed to get away with such asubstandard response in Europe, but the lack of regulations andenforcement in developing countries are exploited by companies likeHolcim where profit is king.

Holcim already has a bad environmental track record. It continues toburn hazardous waste as fuel in its cement kilns. This is one of themost polluting methods to deal with hazardous waste as it spreadspollution to the air and also into the final product, cement. So ifyour home is built using Holcim cement, from kilns burning hazardouswaste, there is a fair chance you also have harmful chemicals in yourwalls. As an industry giant, Holcim should be leading the cementindustry away from this environmentally destructive and dangerouspractice.

This is just the latest example of how multinationals exploit theenvironment and people of the developing world for profit. What isneeded is international laws to hold corporations criminally andfinancially liable for damage and compensation for victims ofindustrial disasters and damage to the environment.

Multinationals like Holcim, Dow and Exxon,including the individuals responsible for illicit or immoral decisions,must not be allowed to hide behind legal clutter, or to undulyinfluence or buy governments to avoid their responsibilities andpromote self-serving policies.