Continuous improvement in Hoboken
Umicore continues to minimize the impact of its production activities on the environment. More specifically in Hoboken, Belgium, Umicore has over many years consistently invested and acted to further reduce the emissions of its recycling plant. As a result, the levels of lead in the blood of the children living next to the site have been declining.
While blood lead levels fell to their lowest level ever in 2019, they rose unexpectedly in July 2020 due to the confluence of exceptionally fierce winds and droughts, and children spending more time at home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Umicore took further measures to prevent dust, containing metals, from spreading into the environment. Onsite, for instance, a wind barometer helps to determine if certain logistical operations and the handling of raw materials should be delayed. New storage areas for raw materials are now fully covered. Any potential sources of dust are investigated along with new techniques to measure dust. The water installation’s capacity has been increased, to allow for a more continuous cleaning onsite. But also offsite, Umicore has increased the cleaning frequency and intensity for nearby streets and playgrounds.
Subsequent test results showed a new decline in the lead values; in November 2021 they came very close to the 2019 level, at an average of 2.91 micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood (µg/dl) in children aged between 1 and 12 years old. This level is below the new average of 3.5 µg/dl that the authorities had set for the children living close to the plant.
Additionally, in consultation with the authorities, Umicore has made a voluntary offer to the residents living closest to the plant to buy their houses in view of transforming this area into 5 hectares closed green zone, increasing the distance between the site and the residential area. So far, as part of this offer close to 200 houses have been purchased and Umicore expects to start creating the green zone in 2024. This green zone will be complemented by an adjacent green zone of 1 hectare on the site’s premises.
Umicore is convinced that altogether these measures will allow for a long-term sustainable co-existence of the site and its neighbors.