PPC battles negligence claims after 3 boys suffer severe burns at dust pile

BULAWAYO – Three children aged 11, 12 and 14 suffered severe burns after stepping on chemical waste alleged to have been negligently dumped by cement manufacturer, Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC).

The boys were herding cattle when they stepped on hot dust produced during the burning of clay and limestone at the company’s plant in Colleen Bawn, Matabeleland South, on January 13.

The three children are admitted at Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo.

In a statement sent to ZimLive, PPC said “in compliance with the company’s protocols, investigations into the incident have been instigated.”

The company added that it had “assisted with all medical support required,” while reporting that the boys were “stable” in hospital, citing doctors.

Company insiders said the area where the electrostatic precipitation (EP dust) was dumped was not designated for the purpose as it falls outside PPC’s fenced area, exposing neighbouring communities to danger.

“The Environmental Management Agency once stopped the dumping of waste at the dumpsite. Dumping of EP dust there is clearly against environmental protocols,” the employee said.

According to the PPC insider, there was another incident early last year in which two people suffered minor burns in the same area.

“Dumping of EP dust should be rare, and the increased dumping clearly indicates PPC is struggling with managing waste,” the employee added.

Clay and limestone are burned at high temperatures and dust which does not form into clinker, the main raw material in the making of cement, is discarded.

The PPC insider said previously, the EP dust would blow out into the atmosphere from chimneys, but the company had now changed the dust abatement system. Under the new system, the EP dust accumulates, requiring regular removal to dumpsites.

He also disputed the location of the incident, which PPC said was on its “industrial dumping site in the western area” of Colleen Bawn.

“That’s not true,” the worker said. “The incident happened in a clay stockpile area, which is not a designated dumpsite for EP dust. How can they dump hot material outside the fence? That place was identified for dumping clay to close a hole that had been dug there, after which dumping was supposed to stop. The dust pile shouldn’t be as high as it is now.”

He claimed PPC was in violation of environmental procedures and had failed to “control recognised hazards” as a member of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 45001.

Challenged on the claims of negligence, PPC head of operations and projects Mavellas Sibanda denied they had received a reprimand from EMA. He, however, confirmed that the company had halted all EP dust dumping in the area of Friday’s incident.

“To the best of our knowledge, there is no order or instruction in the past from EMA advising PPC Zimbabwe to abandon the industrial dumpsite in question,” Sibanda said.

“The dumpsite is secured by the company’s security guards who patrol this area to prevent access by unauthorised persons. The company also maintains signage in this area.”

EMA had not responded to our enquiries.

Sibanda said PPC was taking steps to stop future encroachments into the area.

“Presently, the company has temporarily cordoned off the dumpsite area and provided additional security to prevent unauthorized access. Provisionally, dumping operations in this area have been suspended,” Sibanda told ZimLive.

“As indicated, in our previous statement, investigations are underway, and further security arrangements, as may be required will be made in terms of the recommendations and outcomes.”

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