On its Flemish sites (Hoboken, Olen, Balen/Lommel, Overpelt), Umicore has already for more than a century been involved in the production of non-ferrous metals. Throughout the years, this production led to historical soil and groundwater pollution on company sites and on neighbouring lands. In November 1997, Umicore concluded a voluntary agreement with the Flemish government to deal with this historical contamination. In 2002, the descriptive soil examinations, intended to survey the extent and the severity of the soil pollution, were declared conform by the OVAM. Umicore lodged an appeal with the Council of State against these conformance declarations. In order to ensure an effective approach to the soil remediation program, and to avoid that it be bogged down in legal argumentation, the parties involved decided to engage in discussions. These discussions eventually issued in an addendum to the covenant 1997 that was on 23 April 2004 signed by the Flemish government, the Public Waste Disposal Company for the Flemish Region (OVAM), and Umicore. The agreement settled the problem of the historical soil pollution around Umicore's four sites in Flanders.
This addendum expects Umicore to effectively proceed to soil remediation works on its company sites and in the housing districts in the adjoining areas in the next fifteen years. In addition, there will also be voluntary financial contributions by Umicore and the Flemish government to deal with the presence of heavy metals in more distant areas, and this during the coming ten years. In this way, the possibility is created for a constructive approach to the historical soil liability in the immediate vicinity of the company's establishments and to put an end to the legal bickering.
Already at the end of 2004, the initial soil remediation projects for company grounds on commission by Umicore were submitted and processed by the OVAM. The start of the soil remediation program on these grounds figures as the source approach to dealing with the problem. The first information meetings were held for the Moretusburg district (residential area adjoining the company's Hoboken establishment). A start has been made of making inventory of the gardens and homes there.
To deal with the spatial issue of the surrounding environment, a number of different experts on soil remediation have been appointed. Their mandate is to draw up, by July 2006, a priority list of the remediation measures that need to be taken.
In the first place, the contamination of the surrounding environment needs to be mapped out; next, the risks have to be defined for each type of area in terms of its utilization (natural reservation area, residential area, farm lands, recreational areas, industrial zones, and water sections) in order to ultimately arrive at the proper and appropriate methods of remediation. This process will be monitored and followed-up by both Umicore and OVAM.
The addendum ensures that in the end there will be remediation of the historical contamination problem around the four establishments in question and this in a manner that is acceptable for the environment and affordable for Umicore plc. Both from an environmental-technical and an economic point of view, this addendum offers an agreeable compromise.