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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

4/27/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Piquiá de Baixo residents must scrape metal off their feet everyday

A small town in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, Piquiá de Baixo, suffers from the ongoing pollution from all the nearby steel mills. The 380 families living there that comprise the town say they have grown weary about the ongoing contamination of their water, air and soil. Ironically, the town takes its name from the piquiá tree that became extinct after the five steel plants.

A small town in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, Piquiá de Baixo, suffers from the ongoing pollution from all the nearby steel mills. The 380 families living there that comprise the town say they have grown weary about the ongoing contamination of their water, air and soil.

A small town in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, Piquiá de Baixo, suffers from the ongoing pollution from all the nearby steel mills. The 380 families living there that comprise the town say they have grown weary about the ongoing contamination of their water, air and soil.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/27/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Americas

Keywords: Brazil, steel mills. pollution, Piquiá de Baixo


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Presently, 500,000 tons of pig iron, an intermediate product in the process of steel refining are produced every year in Piquiá de Baixo. Pig iron is produced in blast furnaces by smelting iron ore, using charcoal or coke as fuel and limestone as a purifying agent.

The steel industry depends on supplies from Vale's iron ore mines. The pig iron is then transported to Atlantic Ocean ports near São Luis, the state capital.

The families there live in modest dwellings with yards bordering on the grounds of the large steel plants. All are suffering health problems from pollution.

On account of the extremely poor quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink, more than 40 percent of the residents of the town suffer from respiratory illnesses, lung diseases and skin lesions.

Taking arms the families are now demanding a transfer to a clean, safe place far away from the steel plants. The majority are farmers, who now can only work land near their homes. In many of Brazil's mining towns and a number of them are also organizing protests.

The 68-year-old Edvard Dantas Cardeal is the president of the Piquiá de Baixo Residents' Association, whose members are affected by the smoke, soot and residues generated by the 70 smelting furnaces in the area.

"We are in danger, because we live next to five steel mills. In addition, Vale has a railway station just 300 meters from our homes, where every day hundreds of tons of iron ore are transported across our town, 24 hours a day," he says.

Andressa Caldas, head of Justiça Global (Global Justice), a non-governmental organization working for human rights, says the situation is emblematic, because the community which has been settled there for over 50 years "is asking to be transferred due to the degree of environmental degradation and toxic pollution it is suffering."

The lawyer for the Piquiá de Baixo residents, Danilo Chammas concurs. He pointed out that the town already existed when the steel plants arrived 25 years ago. Now, "coexistence has become impossible, as the local people are forced to breathe iron ore dust mixed with charcoal every day," he said.

"The families should have been relocated when the steelmaking complex was built; but a move is still the only alternative, and is urgently needed," he says.

Chammas said the residents are demanding "a greater commitment by Vale to the local people; and the company should contribute resources toward the building of a new settlement far away from the pollution."

According to the Report on Vale's Unsustainability, the company "refuses to make reparations for the harm caused these people, or to cover the cost of their resettlement."

Cardeal also said his community's demand is a matter of utmost urgency, as they cannot stay there any longer. "We cannot stand it any longer; the steel mills pollute the river that flows through the town, and all we can do is ask God to get us out of this place," he said.

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