A year has passed since the Ministry of Environment gave its approval for cement factories to begin using coal to heat their kilns, amid a purported natural gas shortage.
Families living near a private cement factory in Alexandria’s district of Wady Al-Qamar posted pictures on Monday of black dust covering their roofs and other pictures of sacks containing grinded coal, attributing the black dust to emissions coming from the cement factory.
Hany Abo Okeil, a member of one of the families living in Wady El-Qamar, told Daily News Egypt that the damages are becoming more blatant with more people falling ill due to the level of emissions, citing the factory’s switch to coal as the main catalyst.
Abo Okeil belongs to one of the families directly affected by the emissions. His mother has been in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a nearby hospital, outside of Wady El-Qamar, currently suffering from respiratory problems.
“My mother has never suffered any respiratory related issues before,” Abo Okeil said, attributing the deterioration of his mother’s health to the factory’s emissions. “After taking her to the hospital, it was discovered that her CO2 levels were higher than normal.”
The factory has shared Wady Al-Qamar with residents since the early 20th century, but in recent years, it has expanded its operations, adding a new kiln that sits right next to residential developments.
Located 30 kms away from the factory is Agamy, another Wady Al-Qamar neighbourhood that also hosts many heavy industrial factories ranging from salt to petroleum; however, residents attribute their health diseases to the cement factory.
Government officials and the factory’s management deny that the factory’s operations are involved in the residents’ health concerns.
Medhat Stefanos, managing director of Titan Cement Egypt (TCE), denied those claims, in a phone interview with Daily News Egypt.
“This is not true. The factory settings are in line with the European standards of safety, and the plant is monitored 24 hours by the Environment Ministry,” he said.
Also in a workshop organised by the Ministry of the Environment in August, the head of the Environment Affairs Agency (EEAA), Ahmed Abou El-Seoud, said that the agency is strictly monitoring the use, shipping, and transport of coal. He stated that there is no need for the public to be wary of its use.
The Environment Ministry did not only give the green light to cement factories to switch to coal use, but also to a wide range of heavy industrial facilities and power plants. It had also allowed exceptions for using coal in factories that operate near residential areas “for the sake of national interest”.
The decision enraged residents and environmentalists who were quick to discuss the multiple health and environmental risks associated with coal emissions and the production of high amounts of CO2, such as respiratory complications and climate change.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) submitted a memorandum filed by residents of Wady Al-Qamar in early October to the State Council Administrative Court against the cabinet decision to allow coal use. The memo denounced in particular the condition of “national interest” in allowing the use of coal.
Environment researcher at EIPR Ragia El-Gezawy told Daily News Egypt that the official responses to the memos are inadequate to the urgency of the issue. However, this does not mean that residents are unable to file a complaint against them, she said.
She further highlighted that some of the families have family members working in the factory, which is a conflict of interest. “Economic hardships sometimes urge people to undertake deadly jobs.”