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The Paradox of ‘Sustainable’ Pollution

For the original in French by Jane Zhang on Greenetvert click here

As the world’s governments gathered to discuss sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference last year, vast heavy metal pollution from a steel plant wreaked havoc on residents and the ecosystem of ​​Santa Cruz, located just a few kilometers from the conference in Rio’s West Zone. The company responsible, the German group Thyssenkrup, now refuses to pay its fines and will benefit from compensation for its efforts towards “sustainable development.”

Santa Cruz, which formerly thrived in agricultural and maritime activities, is now bathing in a dust layer of heavy metals. This “money rain” as locals call it, is quite present and causes respiratory diseases, eye infections and skin diseases. Some residents have even developed severe allergies that make their face swell up. In addition, local ecosystems, which provided the livelihood of thousands of fishermen families, are now destroyed.

The large steel complex TKCSA, which was opened in 2010 by the German company ThyssenKrupp, covers an area of ​​9km², formerly occupied by farmers from the Landless Workers’ Movement. The Brazilian government had decided to expel them because they “destroyed the mangroves.” The State has, on behalf of local development, promoted this megaproject with the financial support of the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDS).

But what is the situation today? Pollution still remains heavy from heavy metals, whether they are present in the air, soil or even water. Just 500 meters from houses, TKCSA has increased fine iron particles by 600%, while producing nearly 5 million steel plates per year for export. Moreover, since the building of the plant in 2006, mangroves have been destroyed to such an extent that fish cannot reproduce anymore. More than 8,000 fishermen and their families are now unable to work. Because they are undergoing catastrophic impacts, local people pressed charges against ThyssenKrupp. At a meeting organized by the company, 200 fishermen reported that they did not want the factory. They called for financial compensation and an immediate end to the pollution. In January 2011, the environmental authorities of the State of Rio responded by condemning the company to pay R$17.5 million ($8.2m) an amount ThyssenKrupp has still not paid.

Against all expectations, the company has initiated a “greenwashing” campaign by publishing its efforts in “biodiversity management,” and claiming the so-called sustainable management of the mangrove and local population. And to add insult to injury, the company might take advantage of “carbon credits” for its thermoelectric plant. Indeed, its combined cycle turbines help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. The institutional world on the international scale is failing on sustainable development. Behind it all hide the real victims–a population and an ecosystem that no longer feel safe at home.