Titan Cement in Wadi al-Qamar convicted of causing environmental and health harm
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) welcomed the judgment issued by the Dekheila Appellate Misdemeanor Court on March 21, 2018 in appeal no. 2322/2018, which found Alexandria Portland Cement -Titan guilty of causing environmental pollution and violating the neighboring residents’ right to health.
Some residents of Wadi al-Qamar, in western Alexandria close to the cement plant, had filed a complaint with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) and with the Public Prosecution in August 2015, accusing Alexandria Portland Cement of harming their health as a result of the air pollution caused by the plant’s emissions. The prosecution surveyed the residences of the complainants, confirming the accumulation of cement dust on roofs and homes. On August 30, 2015, the EEA carried out an inspection of the cement plant that found violations in the level of permissible pollutants within the workplace. In December of the same year, the prosecution referred the complainants to the Chest Disease hospital in Kom al-Shaqafa in Kormouz, for medical examination. The examination found that all ten complainants, among them children and women, suffered from various respiratory illnesses and allergies.
In July 2016, the Public Prosecution referred the case to the Dekheila Misdemeanor Court in Alexandria, case no. 6645/2016. The prosecution accused the CEO of Alexandria Portland Cement in his capacity as the chief responsible party with three charges. The charges were failure to take precautions and measures necessary to prevent the emission of pollutants into the air, failure to take measures pertaining to the disposal and production of hazardous materials, and causing harm to the victims because of negligence, wanton behavior, and a failure to comply with laws and regulations.
On 18th of January 2018 the misdemeanor court convicted the CEO of Alexandria Portland Cement on all charges, fining him LE20,000 for each of the first and second charges and LE200 for the third charge together with referring the civil suit to the competent court. The company’s lawyers appealed the judgment, and on March 21, the Dekheila Appellate Misdemeanor Court upheld the earlier judgment.
EIPR sees this judgment as justice for the complainants and a recognition of their rights to health and environmental safety. The judgment is particularly important because current environmental laws and regulations allow heavy polluting industries such as cement and coal-powered plants to operate in residential areas, which represents a severe threat to the health and safety of the neighboring communities.
While welcoming the judgment, EIPR noted that it remains the exception due to the legal difficulty of proving the environmental violations by factories. Plants typically submit official documents demonstrating their compliance with pollution standards set by law, which are often contradicted by evidence and facts documented by communities. Indeed, Alexandria Portland Cement, owned by Titan Multinational Corporation, submitted documents of its excellent environmental performance record and its compliance with environmental standards. Area residents, meanwhile, presented dozens of still images and videos of the emissions from the plant’s chimney.
The legal difficulties are also compounded by the fact that industrial polluters, among them Titan, habitually argue that they are not the sole source of pollution or the sole cause of disease and therefore they should not be held accountable for the damage. Although Inhaling cement dust doubtlessly harms human health and exacerbates illness, this argument is widely used by plants to evade punishment.
The EIPR stresses the importance of amending environmental laws and regulations, denying heavy polluting industries permission to operate in residential areas. It also stressed on improving environmental standards to make them consistent with international recommendations, and on improving the capacities of the inspection system and environmental accountability. In addition, EIPR demanded more transparency in making data and environmental assessment readings easily accessible to local residents, and on giving local communities more latitude to participate in monitoring the performance of factories.
Alexandria Portland Cement-Titan is located in Wadi al-Qamar, in western Alexandria. The plant’s southern wall lies just ten meters from the residential area, and prevailing winds send the plant’s emissions toward the residential community.
The cement lobby, consisting largely of foreign corporations, spearheaded a campaign to allow the expanded use of coal in Egypt, in order to maintain the high profits of past years, assisted by the heavily subsidized natural gas. Coal is one of the most polluting conventional fuels and one of the most hazardous to human health, which has compounded the harmful impact of the Titan Cement plant on the local community.
For years area residents have complained of pollution and the harm to their own and their children’s health. Residents have observed numerous violations and published evidence on social media. They have additionally filed several complaints with the Ministry of Environment and other competent bodies, to no avail. They filed several suits against the cement plant because of its legal and environmental violations.
The residents also filed a complaint to the World Bank, which finances the cement plant. The Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO ) of the world bank did an assessment visit to the area on September 2015 , after which the complaint was referred to the Compliance function of the CAO . The compliance function decided that there are substantive fears related to the environmental and social performance of the factory and a comprehensive investigation is needed. A field investigation visit was done on January 2017 and the final report is expected within the few coming months.