Ljubica Drake, General Manager of Environmental Protection Function at HBIS GROUP Serbia Company
HBIS SERBIA INTEREST IS THE IMPROVEMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
Has pollution been reduced since HBIS took over the steel plant, and if so, how much has it been reduced?
Today, air pollution is the number one topic in Serbia, and the finger is pointed at large factories, especially those that are owned by China. Steel plant HBIS Serbia respects all applicable laws of the Republic of Serbia and with new investments will be able to keep pace with European Union standards. The Chinese owner has invested more than 300 million euros in environmental protection projects in the past five years. For the sake of comparison, which speaks for itself, the Americans, as the owners of the steel plant, in the 9 years of their management of this factory in Smederevo, considered as the golden age in the history of the steel plant, invested 80 million dollars in environmental protection. The departure of the American owner was followed by a difficult period for the factory, during which we were really reduced to mere survival. Since the Chinese employer came, they first invested in existing environmental protection facilities, which speaks to the exact opposite of the claim that our equipment is outdated and unmaintained since the arrival of the new owner.
So yes, the pollution has been decreased since the new owner took over the plant. We have an example of the measuring station in Radinac, which in 2020 recorded 148 days of exceeding the PM10 and PM2.5 particles. But it is not true that these are worse results than in previous years. At the measuring point in the village of Radinac, measurements were made by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010, 2011 and 2020. The result from 2020 is better than in 2010 or 2011, when there were 110 more days of exceeding the average daily values. When we link these results to production, the results also show progress.
HBIS Sebia has been performing dedicated measurements of heavy metals for three years, monitoring the maximum permitted concentrations for the protection of people. The metals were made from samples PM2.5 and PM10 and compared on an annual basis, as given by the Regulation on Conditions for Monitoring and Air Quality. The values of PM10 and PM2.5 clearly show the declining trend of these values from year to year. Concentration of PM10 particles for 2019 – 113mg / m3, in 2020 – 76, and so far in 2021 – 46mg / m3. The same tendency is with PM 2.5 particles for 2019 – 75mg / m3, 2020 – 57, 2021 so far – 30 mg / m3. This is a concrete and visible improvement, and these trends are followed by measuring stations in Ralja and in the city of Smederevo.
The steel plant in Smederevo employs almost 5,000 people, who live in the city or in the surrounding locations. We are not inside the protective balloon that safeguards us, and pollutes the population around us, nor do we work here with gas masks. We are also citizens of Smederevo. Do you think we would work without regard to pollution against ourselves, against our children growing up in the city and surrounding villages? Because of all of us, as well as our neighbors, the interest of this factory is to improve the impact on the environment. We have a very developed monitoring and we invest both efforts and money in these constant improvements, because we share a common interest, the continuous improvement of environmental performance.
What is the company’s response to the protests of environmental organizations regarding pollution, especially in Radinac and surrounding villages?
The law defines every industrial activity as a pollutant, but there are legal limits for emissions that have to be followed. Our impact is inevitable, but not as much as it is presented in the media, because there is an undisputable impact of the operation of city boiler rooms using fuel oil, smoke from households heating, traffic, burning grass, tires, that we all endure. It is hard to determine who is impacting what, but the new measuring station that we are donating will help us to monitor it separately. Now, HBIS Serbia reacts to each remark of the inspectors, citizens and neighbors, we examine everything, check everything. We also fulfill all legal obligations for the payment of fees through the “Polluter pays” fees and fees for the improvement and protection of the environment. Cumulatively, the amount of these taxes on an annual level is around 180 million dinars.
With the arrival of HBIS, the company has clearly set its goals, and that is for HBIS to raise the environmental performance of this factory to the level that steel plants in the EU have. A clear goal was then set, and so far all investments are being realized. We are talking about large projects that in their nature require large investments and time. To put it simply, there is no response from HBIS to the protests, we are achieving the goals that we have set ourselves. Most of the allegations made by the initiators of the protest are unfounded, so it all point to doubts about the correctness of their intentions. As far as we are concerned, the company’s commitment is that environmental protection is the most important factor after safety and employee protection, even more important than production.
One of the attacks on HBIS Serbia is the IPPC permit. We are in the process of obtaining these permits for the location in Smederevo and our request was publicly announced in the media, in accordance with the law. Interested parties had the opportunity to read our request and submit their comments. One of the objections came from RERI, whose interest focus is on us, who has emphasized on several occasions that we do not have this permit. To our request, which was publicly published in accordance with the valid law, RERI’s gave an objection for it to be denied, with explanation that they didn’t had enough time to examine it. Their objection came after the deadline for objections had expired. All this brings us to the question of RERI’s intention, considering the fact that constructive and timely objections were never given. Along with that, our plant in Sabac received an IPPC permit in 2014. The company’s goal is to get this permit for Smederevo also, as soon as possible, and not to postpone the process, because we see no reason why it should not happen. On the other hand, the conclusions are made that the increase in patients with malignancy is a direct consequence of the work of the steel plant, which is mildly put, not honest, nor is it true. Even the Director of the Institute for Oncology and Radiology Dr. Grujicic warned after 1999 of the dangerous consequences of the bombing. At that time, a transformer facility was targeted inside the steel plant, for which even today it has not been determined whether and to what extent it contained carcinogenic PCB oil, the use of which is now prohibited. We are all aware of the consequences that burning PCB oil can cause. When we talk about the impact on health, the approach must be much more detailed and all impacts must be taken into account, and not just mere figures and one-off analyzes.
What is the company doing to further reduce pollution in Smederevo and its surroundings?
In addition to the mentioned measurements, we have installed in the factory 5 continuous meters on the largest emitters, for which the legal regulations require us to have a continuous measurement of pollutants, primarily dust. With these devices, we monitor the operation of our environmental protection systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Due to better monitoring, on June 9, 2021, we offered the Environmental Protection Agency to buy and donate an automatic measuring station for air quality monitoring. By reading the data from this station, we will be able to monitor the impact of our facilities in real time, and we will be able to monitor the impact of households, agricultural work, traffic, which means that it will be useful to all of us. We want this measuring station to start its reading before the capital investments in our factory start operating, because then their positive impact on the environment will be more clearly observed.
We planted a green belt around the waste management plant and on the part of Shielding Gas, near the train station. We hired contractors for regular maintenance and watering of roads.
Also, in the factory, we plan to set up a protective wall between the Ore deposit and the village of Radinac, the so-called “Seventh Region” settlement, which will be a barrier and improve the situation regarding dust from the factory. We are also developing a project for dedusting the blast furnace casting platform No. 2, a project for a facility for extracting zinc from blast furnace sludge.
Since the end of the previous heating season, the representatives of the company have offered the city of Smederevo the possibility of jointly solving the problem of pollution, which causes the operation of fuel oil boilers, so that the excess heat from the factory would be used to heat buildings. We proposed to do a feasibility study of heating the city or its parts, with the waste heat we have inside the steel plant.
HBIS Serbia is in the final phase of 3 grand projects for energy conservation and improvement of environmental protection: New sinter line, Walking Beam Furnace and Reservoir for blast furnace gas. The operation of new facilities equipped with advanced and sophisticated equipment will have positive effects on the preservation of environment. Everyone in the area will feel the improvement. The project of ecological construction of the raw material treatment system (New Sinter Line) has an extremely good dedusting system, and the dust is automatically returned by pneumatic pipes to the dosing bunker. All overflow points are covered by the dedusting system. It is a triple dedusting system that contains electrostatic and bag filters.
When the new facilities are launched, according to our expectations, the positive effects of their work will be monitored throughout 2022. Since August, experts, instructors from China have been training employees to work in the new facilities, which speaks volumes about the complexity of the new equipment, and even more about the thorough and serious approach of both HBIS Group and HBIS Serbia. Getting familiar with, quality of work using new technology and safety of all employees and the local community is an imperative of HBIS Serbia in these final jobs during the next couple of months. These facilities are just the beginning of the overall progress in the field of environmental protection in our factory.