An agriculture expert has warned that the public faces potential health threats if a detailed toxicology study is not conducted to determine how companies that plan to mine phosphate in the Namibian sea will dispose toxic waste, after it emerged that radioactive elements such as thorium and uranium contained in the phosphate rock.
Namibia Marine Phosphate’s Environmental Impact Assessment report states that the phosphate rock contains various metals and radionuclides as minor constituents in the ore.
“Among these elements are various metals which are more commonly referred to as heavy metals, which include: cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, vanadium, selenium and two radioactive elements, uranium and thorium,” states the report.
NMP, however, argues that the heavy metals found in the marine phosphate are in an insoluble non- available form due to “the common ion/ionic concentration/inherent low insolubility equilibriums effects.”
“The presence of these elements in the NMP materials after millions of years under water is major proof of their lack of solubility and therefore access into biological or aqueous systems,” the report further stated.
Dr. Hilma Amwele, during an exclusive interview with The Patriot yesterday, stressed the need for a detailed toxicology study to determine how radionuclides from by-products produced (phosphogypsum) during the processing of phosphate ore into fertilizer will be managed and disposed.
“Looking at their [NMP] report, they mention that in the phosphate ore there are various metals which include uranium and thorium that are radioactive. Based on their report they will produce fertilizer and superphosphate, phosphogypsum is a by-product of processing phosphate ore into fertilizer with sulfuric acid. It will be radioactive due to the presence of naturally occurring uranium and radium in the phosphate ore.
The company did not explain to the nation how the disposal of phosphogypsum will be carried out. In addition, how will they manage the waste products?” she questioned. She further explained: “I understand in some cases it can be radioactive and in some it is non-radioactive. But since the ore contains radioactive elements that produce radium as they decay-which produces the Radon gas which is radioactive.
They did not explain how they will protect public from this Gypsum, because as long as the waste products are disposed it will radiate when it is in its wet form and when it comes into contact with Oxygen it will emit Radon. We all know Radon is a radioactive gas that will have the potential to cause lung cancer if inhaled.”
Amwele also challenged the company to reveal whether the corrosive waste from its operations will be disposed-on land or in the ocean. “I am not sure if they will discharge the corrosive waste in the sea or on land, because, if it is on land by sink it in the ground, they did not address the issue of its impact on underground water? If it is in the sea, what is its impact on the marine ecosystem?” she questioned.
She warned that most metals have the potential to accumulate in living organisms and find their way into the food chain. This means it can be taken up by plankton that are fish feed and eventually end up in human beings who consume the fish.
“If the fish takes it up and during the fishing process these fish are caught and it is discovered during the quality checking process that the level of cadmium, for example, exceeds Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) standards, consumers will reject our fish on both the local and international.
The company did not address the impact of this probable situation and the impact it might have on our fish markets,” she said. Amwele urged companies to always consider the negative impact their potential business ventures could have on the public.
“When it comes to harming the environment we are all affected because we live in that very same environment,” she concluded.