Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for May, 2018

Lead-up to United Silicon’s Helguvik smelter criticized

Iceland’s National Audit Office has strongly criticized the actions – or lack of actions – of various government bodies during the period leading up to the start-up of the silicon metal plant run by United Silicon which was eventually closed by the Environment Agency on September 1 last year.

The report (in Icelandic) was submitted to the parliamentary Althing at the end of last week, as it was Vidreisn MP Hanna Katrin Fridriksson who had requested the investigation. Many points came up in the report, some of which were foreseeable and known while others were not.

The Audit Office say that the issuing of concession agreements should be refined in future. They say that those responsible for issuing operating licences (i.e. the Environment Agency) and concession agreements (the Government) must ensure beforehand that the operators of polluting industries can verify their ability to manage such operations and the truth value of the information presented.

They say that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) included air pollution dispersion forecasts that were purported to come from a Danish engineering consultancy, COWI – but, just before the EIA was presented, COWI said they had nothing to do with the making of the model and wanted their name removed. The EIA also did not mention odour pollution and the reasons for it were never explained fully, apart from irregular operation of the arc furnace. They say the the Planning Agency must think about how to react in cases of conceivable deviations from the EIA, especially when a plant is in close proximity to a residential area (as was the case both with United Silicon and the PCC plant in North Iceland that has just started operating).

According to the report, the plant was not fully completed when operations started and the compulsory pre-startup visit by the Occupational Safety and Health Authority did not take place until after operations had started. The plant’s buildings were not in accordance with existing planning regulations, visual pollution was greater than expected (probably due to two buildings being higher than planned) and the plant was not operated in accordance with the EIA, the operating licence or the aims of the concession agreement.

The capital requirements were also underestimated. When the concession agreement and profitability analysis were being prepared, all available data and information came from the company itself, and the information on the owners and administrators was unclear.

The newspaper Fréttablaðið covered the report in some detail and also dug up the following: If the owners had been investigated beforehand, it would have come to light that one of the owners, Magnus Gardarsson – who was fined for speeding last year and also charged with embezzlement and forgery – had been made to resign from COWI for misusing his position as an employee there, and also that a company owned by him had been fined for violating the rights of employees.


Odour pollution from PCC silicon metal smelter, Iceland

Well, everyone knew that it MIGHT happen and now it HAS happened. Residents of Husavik, the nearest village to the PCC Bakka silicon metal plant, complained of odour from the PCC plant at the weekend. The company say they had to switch off one of the furnaces at the weekend and intended to start it up again today. When a furnace is switched off, odour can emanate, as happened umpteen times at the United Silicon smelter at Helguvik and eventually led to the plant being shut down by the Environment Agency. In this case, there was a northerly wind, which carried the odour to Husavik.

For those who can read Icelandic, there are interesting news briefs from the company, one of them about odour pollution and the reason why it occurred at the weekend and the other about air quality and emissions of smoke and particulates from the plant.

The company have obviously been having various other teething problems too, as their Icelandic news page is full of news snippets about problems due to a, b and c and delays due to x, y and z. Interestingly, their English website does not have a news page, so it is still full of how wonderfully eco-friendly the plant will be, etc.

Nothing has appeared in the Icelandic press about this (at least not as far as I’m aware at the time of writing this at 22.30 on May 14). Readers of this blog hear it first.

Update: They switched on the furnace again on Monday but other problems came up so they had to switch it off again – which could mean odours reaching Husavik again.