"I Thought Quality Of Life Mattered More" - The Reykjavik Grapevine

“I Thought Quality Of Life Mattered More”

Published August 8, 2017

Photos by
Art Bicnick

Residents in Reykjanesbær in Suðurnes felt the effects of pollution from the nearby United Silicon plant last weekend. This is yet another incident of many between the town and the plant, and residents have had enough.

RÚV reports that due to decrease electrical flow to the main oven, it operated at a lower temperature than usual last weekend, which actually leads to increased pollution. Nearby residents were aware of the matter due to the strong smell of the emissions.

Ragnhildur L. Guðmundsdóttir, who lives in the area and suffers from sensitive lungs, is also the director of the group Opponents of Heavy Industry in Helguvík. She told reporters that the plant is making life worse for those living in the area.

“This plant should have lost its operating license long ago,” she said. “I don’t understand it. I thought that quality of life mattered more [than the plant].”

As reported, there have been numerous environmental issues with this particular plant.

Last November, nurse María Magnúsdóttir sought medical attention after pollutants coming from the plant caused chemical burns to the mucous membranes of her mouth and throat. More residents visited local health clinics with similar complaints. United Silicon responded by saying this was a one-time “beginner’s mistake.” But then things got worse.

Videos taken within the plant itself were leaked to the media. These videos showed that the plant regularly unleashes unidentified emissions into the surrounding air. The plant says these emissions are relatively harmless silica dust, but respiratory complaints from area residents still continued.

Follow-up conducted by the municipality of Reykjanesbær, where the plant is located, showed that arsenic levels in the air around the plant were approximately 20 times the acceptable limits set by the Environment Agency of Iceland. Calls for shutting the plant down began to get louder.

In April, operations at the plant were at last brought to a halt. Reykjanesbær residents began to breathe easier. In the interim, specialists from Norway were flown in to review the entire manufacturing process at United Silicon, and offer counsel with the help of the Environment Agency on how to improve matters.

This process continued for several weeks. Then, late last May, United Silicon operations commenced anew, under the strict supervision of the Environment Agency. It is as yet unknown how much the Environment Agency’s involvement in getting the plant operational has cost taxpayers.

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