x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Ministry silences RAK stone crushers

Inspectors catch out night-time stone crushing, but residents are demanding more to be done to enforce environmental laws.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Surprise night inspections have led to three stone crushers being shut down for a week, but residents are demanding that more be done to enforce environmental laws. Following complaints about the crushers by residents near the village of Showka, in the south of the emirate, the Ministry of Environment and Water found the dust control systems on the crushers had been switched off.

The resulting air pollution endangered public health, the ministry ruled, so the crushers were ordered to be shut down and operators were given one week to meet national standards. Residents and health officials said that apart from the noise and dust, they were concerned about the possible effects on children. Health workers at Sha'am Hospital, near the quarries in the north of the emirate, said they were treating between 30 and 40 patients a day for asthma, most of them children.

Environmental officials, however, insisted that regulations were being implemented and well monitored. "In RAK our regulation is much stricter than the federal one for the cement factories," said Dr Saif al Ghais, the executive director of the emirate's Environment Protection and Development Authority. "We are receiving weekly reports from the cement factories on their emissions and when we see there is something that is not within the regulation, we call the cement factory.

"By the Ministry of Environment evaluation two months ago, 97 per cent are implementing all of the regulations and taking care of all required measures." There are an estimated 90 crushers in RAK and Fujairah. RAK has three fixed stations that measure nitric oxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and suspended particle emissions. Fines for violating the regulations range from Dh2,000 (US$544) to more than Dh20,000.

In July 2008, the federal Environment Agency passed regulations restricting noise and dust emissions. Quarries were given one year to implement the new requirements, but residents complain that pollution has grown worse. "This asthma is very strong nowadays," said Aaesha al Mazrooei, 22, a teacher from al Ghail, a village near Showka. Ms al Mazrooei has four nieces and nephews below the age of six, and all suffer from asthma.

"The crushers are more active nowadays. Sometimes they [the authorities] said something but they did not follow it. They will check it regularly but not all the time. They have to be more strict with them." Rowaya Salem, a teacher from al Ghail and a mother of three, said the village "wants more oxygen". "It's no problem that the factories are here, but I want more plants so there's more oxygen and better health," she said.

Residents have protested against the crushers since they opened in the 1970s. "I strongly believe that technology and industry could solve environmental problems, but there needs to be some sort of understanding," Dr al Ghais said. "They need to know that we have no interest in the development more than protecting the environment, but unfortunately sometimes they think that we are really laid-back, that we are not putting regulations and measures. [But] we speak on behalf of the environment and we speak on behalf of the people."

The companies did not respond to requests for comment. azacharias@thenational.ae vtodorova@thenational.ae