Overall evaluations of carcinogenicity and updating of iarc monographs
Many local people thought their health problems were somehow related to pollution from the factory, but they could not prove it.
While two World Wars were fought with a major economic depression in between, people were happy to just have a job and ask no questions, “seeing all but saying nothing’’. The economy was booming, prosperity was growing fast and workers wanted better jobs.
Life expectancy in Antwerp is two years shorter than the average in Flanders, a highly industrialised region in itself.
In the suburb of Hoboken, where UPMR runs the world’s largest precious metals recycling unit, the link between pollution and health is intriguing.
Since the early 1920s local actors have been actively asking for cleaner air, decontamination and compensation.
In 2004, the company paid 77 million € for a clean-up of the area in closest proximity to its plants in Hoboken and Olen.
Although the plant has implemented substantial ecological modernisation since the 1970s, the legacy of 122 years of historic pollution is still present: lead, arsenic and cadmium levels in the soil increase with proximity to the factory, as does the level of lead in the blood of toddlers and infants.
Cancers are significantly more frequent in Hoboken than in Flanders or Antwerp, particularly lung cancers, the type most likely to result from the plant’s activities.
The factory actually admitted that they were the source of this pollution.
Bees are to an ecological system what the canary birds were to the mineworkers: if they die, something is deeply wrong.
In the sixties, several mass extinctions with great losses of the honey harvest occurred in municipalities downwind from the factory.
According to Professor Debackere from the University of Ghent, the cause of death was an increased arsenic dose. By 1973, many people from Hoboken noticed that their laundry, drying in the garden, became eroded with holes when the wind blew from the factory.
When dozens of cows and horses died after grazing near the plant, Professor Debackere measured the lead concentrations in the soil.