By: Kirsten Steunenberg.
“Graphite rains’ look like little sparkles in the air’, says Kyra, 10 years old, light brown hair, with freckles on her face. ‘It smells really bad. Like something burned.’ After a graphite rain, you can find a dirty layer on the playground equipment of the school’s playground in Wijk aan Zee.
On Tuesday the 4th of June, RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) published a report that stated that metals in graphite rains coming from Tata Steel, are posing health threats to children. Metals such as lead, manganese and vanadium were found in particular high amounts. Children who are repeatedly in contact with the metals are under risk of developing ‘neurological development disorders’.
The village of Wijk aan Zee, 2,200 inhabitants, is close to Tata Steel. The inhabitants are familiar to nuisance by the steel manufacturer, through particulate matter, noise, smell and light. According to the town’s mayor, graphite rains fall ‘more than once a month’. The graphite rains come from Harsco, a company operating on Tata Steel’s grounds, processing its rest products. Harsco now operates in the open air, but a huge hall is being built to transfer the activities indoors. The hall will be finished by April 2020.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Wijk aan Zee have mixed opinions on the results of the report. A few women are not surprised that the particles are dangerous: ‘I often have burning eyes and the dust irritates my throat.’ They are annoyed that no one is acting: ‘The whole town is talking about it, except for the people who should solve this.’
But someone else sees that differently: ‘The whole issue is a bit exaggerated. People think we have mountains of graphite over here; that is not the case. No, I do not want to justify all this. It is unacceptable and something needs to happen. But if the graphite rains were really that unhealthy, we would have been dead already. And if Tata stops or leaves, this whole town will be gone.’
Tata creates jobs, both in the factory as for the companies surrounding it. And Tata brings full hotels and restaurants. It is doubted if Wijk aan Zee would have existed without Tata Steel.
So Wijk aan Zee is divided. Parents and teachers remain concerned about the situation. So for now, children like Kyra, will have to thoroughly wash their hands after playing outside.
This article was adapted and translated from three different news articles (in Dutch):
More in English can be read here:
And do you want to know more about other solutions to Tata Steel’s environmental problems? Read our article on the SUISCY project of synthetic kerosene!