From his garden in Vindoulou, on the outskirts of Pointe-Noire (Republic of the Congo), Cyrille Traoré Nbembi has recorded on video the black smoke coming out of a factory located a few meters from his home. It was then that Cyrille decided to contact Les Observers de France 24, concerned about the health of his family and his neighbors who, according to him, suffer from various health problems.
Cyrille Traoré Ndembi moved in 2019 to Vindoulou, near Pointe-Noire, in the Republic of the Congo. His garden overlooks the Metssa Congo smelter, specialized in recycling non-ferrous materials such as lead and aluminum that has been in operation since 2012.
According to our Observer, all of his family members suffered from health problems within a few months of his arrival. Noting that the same thing was happening with his neighbors, he decided to create a group that now has 187 people.
“Since 2019 we have had to put up with nuisances related to this plant, in particular toxic fumes and gases, dust, vibrations and excessive noise. It is a real ordeal for us here in Vindoulou. The plant is very, very close to our houses. From my house, only a 10-meter alley separates us. There is even a private school fifty meters away or less. The fumes spread and enter homes and even invade classrooms,” says Cyrille, denouncing the impact of the smelter on the community.
In August 2020, the Governor of Kouilou, Paul Adam Dibouilou, visited the site and the plant subsequently received a formal summons. According to the Ministry of the Environment, a monitoring committee was created and medical examinations were carried out on several residents.
But about three months later the plant reopened. our orObserver explains that they have received practically no information on the evolution of the situation. The community even believes that the medical exams were “confiscated” as the Environment Ministry never released the results despite “repeated requests” for access to them.
“In the surroundings of the factory, people complain that the air is unbreathable. Many neighbors also complain of sore throats, itchy eyes, coughing, respiratory or neurological problems… Despite our efforts to attract the attention of operators and authorities, we have never been successful. We feel abandoned and the plant continues to operate without taking into account the health risks,” Cyrille explained.
In March 2023, Cyrille Traoré Ndembi undertook to test several neighbors for their blood lead levels.
The results he sent to Les Observers de France 24 showed levels ranging from 240 to 500 micrograms of lead in blood. These are levels that can be considered high and likely to cause health problems, as explained by Philippe Glorennec, a professor and researcher specializing in public health at the National Institute for Research in Health and Medicine of Franceto (Insert): “These levels of lead in the blood, considered high, could be the cause of medical treatment in France. Above 500 micrograms in the blood, more visible symptoms may begin to appear.”
Glorennec points out that the symptoms associated with lead poisoning are not very specific, and that a blood test is necessary to diagnose it. In the most severe cases (more than 2,000 micrograms in blood), lead poisoning can cause death.
However, it remains difficult to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the symptoms suffered by local residents and the activities of a smelter. In general, there have been many cases of lead poisoning in the vicinity of old foundries, especially by ingesting lead and, to a lesser extent, by inhalation, according to the researcher.
In France, for example, several cases of lead poisoning (or lead poisoning) have recently been reported near former foundries.
The ‘Metssa Congo’ foundry, for its part, has told Los Observadores that “the Congolese government has made recommendations to correct a series of imperfections found on the ground, and that ‘Metssa’ has carried out within the stipulated period”. The foundry also considers that it has all the necessary authorizations to operate.
For her part, the Minister of the Environment of the Republic of Congo, Arlette Soudan-Nonault, who is carrying out inter-ministerial monitoring of the matter together with the Ministry of Industry, told Los Observadores that she has regularly closed the plant to ask it to comply with certain points .
“We have asked this factory several times to comply, and we have made it close several times for not applying the regulations in force. And I won’t hesitate to do it again. Jobs must be protected, but not at the expense of people’s health,” said Minister Arlette Soudan-Nonault.
Kouilou’s deputy governor, Alphonse Koutana, announced that he will soon visit the factory and will not hesitate to call for its closure if he finds irregularities.
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