Polluting cement factories 'could be shut down'

Ministry of Environment and Water rules that all plants must provide a report assessing the level of pollution.

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DUBAI // Cement factories that do not comply with regulations introduced this week could be shut down within three months.

The Ministry of Environment and Water ruled that all plants must provide officials with a report assessing the level of pollution, compiled by a third-party consultancy.

There are 11 cement factories in the country, and all have already been consulted by local authorities on the issue.

If they do not provide a report by the agreed upon deadline, they may be closed - either temporarily or permanently.

"There is a maximum period of three months," said Sultan Abdulla Alwan, the assistant undersecretary for external audits at the ministry. "If they cannot complete what this rule requires within three months, we can close it totally."

The rule, which was introduced on Sunday, is part of a wide-ranging package of bylaws intended to halve emissions from cement factories within three years.

Dr Ajeeth Cheppudira, a technical adviser at the ministry, said an independent report was required in addition to the basic Environmental Impact Assessment which companies are already required to provide.

"They will have to have a consultant look at their compliance with the guidelines," he said. "The consultants will also measure omissions and they will give us the report. We are doing this in order to make an assessment of the current situation."

He also said the ministry would take into account budgetary constraints of some companies.

"It will cost them millions of dollars," admitted Dr Cheppudira. "Depending on their situation, we may be giving them a little more time to complete the requirements."

Residents in many parts of the Northern Emirates have complained of huge dust clouds thrown up from limestone quarries in the mountains.

The ministry issued regulations on those quarries in 2008 and again in 2010, which have helped to reduce the dust in some areas.

Still, Dr Yasser Al Nuaimi, the director of Ras Al Khaimah Medical District, said that dust from quarries was still an issue for residents.

"People are unhappy because there is too much dust. Everyday they need to clean their houses and their cars.

"But there's no definite correlation between chest diseases and the presence of these factories in that area. There hasn't been a proper study that would establish a link between the two."

The rules introduced this week are related to the associated but separate cement industry, and are the first legislation directed specifically towards this industry.

Dr Cheppudira said cement companies were also required to ensure 50 per cent of the boundary of their factories be covered with trees and other foliage, to mitigate some of the carbon dioxide emissions and to "improve the ecology" and appearance of the area.

And, whereas vast clouds of limestone dust can be thrown up from quarries if not enough water is used, in the huge kilns of cement factories, where stone is heated to high temperatures, harmful gases such as hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide can be produced.

"These gases are not good for health, it has to be kept under control," said Dr Cheppudira.

He said that the ministry has a goal of reducing the maximum particulate emissions from cement factories down from 40 milligrams per cubic metre, to 20 milligrams by 2015.

However he said that many factories, particularly older ones in Ras Al Khaimah, did not currently have adequate filtration systems.

"Out of 11 plants, nine are OK. Only two plants in Ras Al Khaimah may need further improvement," he said, declining to name which ones.

Hydrogen sulphide, which has an egg-like smell, can produce dizziness, headaches and fatigue in people who are exposed to it over a long period of time.