This is an environmental justice conflict taking place in Montcada i Reixac, near Barcelona, with complaints from civil society organizations against the Lafarge cement factory (owned by Holcim).
The township of Montcada i Reixac, right next to Barcelona, experienced an urbanistic boom during the 1960s-70s. Most of the new inhabitants were working class people from Andalusia and Extremadura. Currently, the population of Montcada i Reixac is mainly working class, and there are Roma communities and also immigrant people from outside Europe.
Lafarge Cementos is a cement company that acquired the factory that was first established in Montcada i Reixac in 1917. In 2007, the company asked for permission to burn waste as part of the fuel mix to power the kilns in the cement plant (which as alleged by environmental groups causes a risk of emissions with toxic components dangerous to human health). The company denied and denies such risks.
The permission for co-incineration was granted on the 4th of August 2008 and started from June 2010. Since then, opposition to the ‘new co-incinerator’ grew. People living nearby organized themselves in a platform of more than 50 groups which have been demanding to stop the waste burning. They organized meetings, workshops, demonstrations and they brought the company and the town council before the courts. At the same time, the platform coordinated with other anti-incinerator platforms from other parts of Spain and also with international groups.
In September 2013, the Highest Court of Justice in Catalonia cancelled the company's environmental permission on technicalities, namely, irregularities during the application process: it was alleged by activists that the EIA report was approved the very same day it was presented when it is necessary to leave 30 days between presenting an EIA and approving it, to allow allegations from civil society groups. The company has appealed and the appeal has been accepted by the Supreme Court of Catalunya. The case is pending, and in the meantime the plant continues operations legally.
The newspaper La Vanguardia (the main center-right Catalan newspaper) reported on 17 February 2014 about citizen mobilization and a macrofestival to demand the closure of the factory: “La plataforma Nou Barris Cabrejada ha organizado el próximo 15 de marzo un macrofestival solidario reivindicativo en el Ateneu Popular de Nou Barris para exigir el cierre de la cementera incineradora Lafarge de Montcada i Reixac, constante fuente de malos olores, contaminación y problemas para la salud, según los vecinos. Las actividades, organizadas conjuntamente con la entidad Pigmeas Revoltosas y con el apoyo de la Plataforma Anti Incineració de Montcada, darán comienzo el sábado 15 de marzo a las 13.30h con un pasacalles con salida a la plaza Francesc Layret, que seguirá con un concierto en el Ateneu Popular de 9 Barris a las 21.00h, a cargo de Itaca Band, Daniel Higiénico y Rap Genoma, entre otros. La reivindicación seguirá el 20 de marzo en el Casal del Barri de Prosperitat con una conferencia sobre los peligros para la salud que provoca la incineración de residuos”.
La Vanguardia (17/2/2014) explained that according to local grassroots environmentalists, "aunque la Plataforma Anti Incineració de Montcada ha ganado el primer juicio, por el cual la Generalitat (the regional government) retiró el permiso medioambiental a la cementera, la fábrica ha presentado un recurso y continúa incinerando.”
In summary, we see here that the origin of the present conflict lies in the co-incineration of waste as fuel. This is not an uncommon complaint – there is a similar allegation in another Lafarge factory in Slovenia. In Montcada i Reixac there are currently (in 2014) street demonstrations and festivals, and also legal appeals on administrative permissions and a court case against Lafarge.
Academic research has also shown, in line with claims from civil society organizations, how health risk is often associated with co-incineration. Javier García-Pérez et al. (2015) shows significant increase of certain types of cancers closed to cement factories (“Cancer mortality in towns in the vicinity of installations for the production of cement, lime, plaster, and magnesium oxide”, Chemosphere, 128: 103-110). According to the same article, the representative of the Spanish cement industry, Mr Dimas Vallina, declared such results only show a statistical correlation (“una correlación estadística – nada más”, see also press sources here in relation to the Sagunto cement plant http://www.levante-emv.com/comunitat-valenciana/2015/03/10/trata-correlacion-estadistica/1236350.html) Garcia-Perez et al 2015, referring to a previous article, states that “other question of interest lies in the replacement of fossil fuel with ‘‘alternative’’ fuel, so-called by the cement industry – which consists in reducing the use of petroleum coke, the usual fuel, using instead waste and/or biomass … Emissions from waste incineration industries arouse social alarm due to health problems that may be generated among their workers and the surrounding populations … In a previous paper, we studied cancer mortality in towns near incinerators, using a similar methodology than in this paper, and we found excess risks for all cancers combined (total population) and tumors of stomach (women), gallbladder (men), lung (men) and pleura (men)” (García-Pérez et al, 2013, “Cancer mortality in towns in the vicinity of incinerators and installations for the recovery or disposal of hazardous waste”, Environment International 51:31-44).
The World Health Organization expert Nicolás Olea is also convinced that emissions are directly correlated with cancer in the neighborhood .