I wish I didn’t have to keep blogging about United Silicon, but circumstances demand that I do.
The latest debacle started with a fire on Monday night on three floors of the building that houses the arc furnace. Since then, United Silicon has been under the spotlight of the Icelandic media. And now operations have been (temporarily) stopped by the Environment Agency (EA) – in fact, they tried to close the plant down before Easter, but United Silicon’s CEO persuaded them not to. However, there’s a complication, as an engineering firm were going to start appraising the smelter the day after the fire, and to do this they’ll have to start up the furnace again for short periods.
The Administration of Occupational Safety and Health said that the fire could have been very serious and workers could have been in danger. They had previously criticized various aspects concerning health and safety, not all of which had been addressed. Sometimes staff had to work in areas with considerable pollution, with inadequate protective gear.
Workers complained to their union, saying that they sometimes had to work with equipment for which they had not been trained.
Bjort Olafsdottir, the Environment Minister, wrote on her Facebook page that operations must stop. She gave four reasons for her opinion, one of which is particularly alarming and concerns the high levels of arsenic that were measured: at a joint meeting of the parliamentary environment and communications committee, the CEO of US said that a possible reason for the increased levels of arsenic might be that the workers were so hot that they opened the door. Because of this, the pollutants were released from the floor to the plant’s surroundings instead of being channelled through the gas cleaning system. Olafsdottir asks: how much contact do these workers have with undesirable chemicals? She has no power to close the plant, as it’s the EA that has to do so.
To top it all, the contractors that built the plant, IAV, are claiming 2 billion kronur in unpaid bills. This is to go before arbitration.
Plant officials have tried to put the blame on manufacturers of the equipment, saying it must be faulty, so much has gone wrong. But I don’t think anyone believes them.
UPDATE: The EA tried to close the plant before Easter as they’d received so many complaints by local residents, who said that the burning odour was worse than ever before. The EA put this down to pollution peaks which for some reason caused the furnace to malfunction.
The Chief Epidemiologist says that five chemicals could be causing health problems: acetic acid, formic acid, methyl chloride, methyl mercaptane and various aldehydes. None of these are monitored and none were expected.
Apparently the EA will decide today whether to close the plant or not. The management couldn’t operate it anyway after the fire. I very much doubt that United Silicon will be able to persuade the EA to allow operations to commence again.
If you click on the United Silicon link at the top of the page, you’ll see that “United Silicon was founded in 2014 by M.Sc. Environmental Engineering Magnus Garðarsson, M.Sc. Mechanical Engineering Helgi Björn and Supreme Court attorney Friðbjörn Garðarsson, together with the Dutch partners Silicon Mineral Ventures, which handles sales and marketing, through their partner company BIT Fondel in their facilities in the harbor of Rotterdam.” Magnus Garðarsson, who was the largest owner of the plant, resigned from the Board on 6 April. His deputy, Audun Helgason, has also withdrawn from the Board.
Say no more.
Update: There was another fire at the plant on Sunday July 16 due to “human error”, but both the company itself and various authorities do not seem to be taking the matter seriously. Smoke emanated from the plant , but I don’t know whether anyone has analysed the chemical components of the smoke.