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
NameUmicore, Hoboken, the ecological debt of an industrial plant, Belgium
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
Rare metals
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsUmicore 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 (in hectares)1,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date1973
Company Names or State EnterprisesUMICORE Group from Belgium
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGeneeskunde voor het Volk
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndustrial workers
Local scientists/professionals
Industrial workers
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-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
OtherCancer, lead in blood values
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

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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Ceecec project: the case with full bibliography:
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Meta Information
ContributorNick Meynen
Last update03/05/2014