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Umicore, Hoboken, the ecological debt of an industrial plant, Belgium


In 1887, a new lead and de-silvering operation in Hoboken started to refine minerals taken from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today it operates under the name Umicore and is the world‟s largest precious metals recycling operation, based in Hoboken. It still recycles precious metals, but the operations have greatly damaged the health of thousands of citizens living nearby. Since 1973 this has caused many conflicts. Some soil remediation has been done, but no compensations for the loss of good health or the capacity to grow fruits or vegetables has been paid.

Basic Data
Name of conflict:Umicore, Hoboken, the ecological debt of an industrial plant, Belgium
State or province:Antwerp
Location of conflict:Hoboken
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Other industries
E-waste and other waste import zones
Specific commodities:Lead
Rare metals
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Umicore had global revenues of € 1,723.2m in 2009 Hoboken processes some 350,000 tonnes every year from more than 200 different materials

Project area:1,000
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:1973
Company names or state enterprises:UMICORE Group from Belgium
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Geneeskunde voor het Volk
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Local scientists/professionals
Industrial workers
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsCancer, lead in blood values
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite some environmental improvements and soil remediation, the majority of the ecological debt of Umicore and its damage to the health and environmental of local populations remains unclaimed.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Meynen, N. & Sébastien, L., Environmental justice and ecological debt in Belgium: the Umicore case. Chapter in Ecological Economics from the ground up. Healy, H., Martinez-Alier, J., Temper, L., Walter, M., Gerber, J-F., New York, Routledge, 2013.
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Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Ceecec project: the case with full bibliography:
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Meta information
Contributor:Nick Meynen
Last update03/05/2014
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