Residents protest proposed catalytic converter processing plant

Until today, July 25, residents could submit objections to the construction plan for a spent catalytic converter processing plant in Grobiņa.

The South Kurzeme local authority is cautious about the project and wants to be sure of all possible risks, but some residents are strongly against the project and are concerned about the impact on the environment, questioning whether it is necessary to import hazardous waste from other countries into Latvia and process it here. 

Meanwhile, the developers of the project claim that it will be waste-free processing of hazardous waste without any threat to people and the environment.

Latvian Radio spoke to local residents in Grobiņa center, who live very close to the "Ķīvītes" waste landfill owned by SIA "Liepājas RAS" where the project developers from Latvia and investors from Austria intend to build a spent catalyst processing plant.

Residents claim that the waste from the existing landfill already ends up in the nearby forest, and question whether a suitable and non-polluting modern factory can really be built for the estimated cost of three million euros.  

Resident Mārtiņš [no surname was given] said: "I am one of the people who lives close by, just a kilometer from the landfill. I get to drive by it every day, I have a large family... I doubt that they will conduct analysis for catalysts in their laboratory. The question is whether we have an independent lab that can do this. I doubt it."

Another resident named Zane [also no surname given] pointed out: "Latvia does not have such waste, catalysts will be imported from Mexico and Bulgaria."

Uldis Vārna, executive director of the South Kurzeme district municipality, said that the discussion of this project has not yet ended and no decision has been made on whether it will be given the green light.

Vārna said: "Councillorshave got involved and write that there are many things in the report [on the proposed plant] that raise questions. The Grobiņa Business Club has also got involved with an opinion. The concerns have been recorded and sent to the Environmental Monitoring Office. We will wait for an opinion. If it is positive, then it will be the city council which must decide. There are questions about the compliance of the filters with certain certifications, also about whether the fact that there are two companies related to hospitality and tourism nearby."

Making the decision will likely not be easy, predicted Varna: "Taking into account the large public involvement, I think it will be quite difficult for the deputies to vote against the general opinion of the public. There is also the legal side, there are arguments, there will certainly be lawyers who will get involved. If we vote against, then it must be on the basis of solid arguments."

Raimonds Veinbergs is a senior consultant at SIA "Estonian, Latvian & Lithuanian Environment", which developed an environmental impact assessment. He explained to Latvian Radio that people are worried about air pollution and that used catalysts could be transported past their houses, and what would happen if there was an accident."

He said: "When we assessed, we assessed the worst case scenario that could happen, the maximum possible emissions. People get worried when they see these numbers."

Veinbergs compared the proposed plant and its potential waste, to a conventional wood chip boiler house.

"The amount of emissions will be small, three-stage air purification facilities are planned, very modern. Those numbers included in the report are the absolute maximums, if we compare these absolute maximums with a small boiler house also in Grobiņa, then the [planned factory] emissions are smaller than the boiler house."

Mārtiņš Berķis-Bergs, the developer of the catalytic converter factory and member of the board of SIA "VNimO Services", attempted to offer reassurance to residents.

He said: "The product we get from the spent petroleum catalyst is ferrovanadium, a metal alloy used mainly in the engineering and aerospace industries. It's a metal alloy that's added to ordinary metal to make it stronger and more durable. It's in cars, and in airplanes." Following further processing, which will not be carried out at the Grobiņa site, vanadium is used in other technologies such as telephones, televisions and computers. Its high value makes it economically viable to recover from spent catalytic converters. 

"There will be no waste left in Latvia. What enters the air is caught in the filters, the filters are washed with special water, the water is not drained into the ground, it is collected in tanks and then taken to relevant companies where these waters are purified, this is a zero-waste technology. Potential equipment, for which we already know the suppliers, is certified on the European market, and the environmental indicators set by Latvia will be 100% respected," he promised.

The company plans to create 30 new jobs at the production facility and process approximately 24,000 tons of catalysts per year.

An evaluation from the State Office of Environmental Supervision is expected to be received only in September or October, when there should be more clarity about the next steps.

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