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January 18, 2019

We emit no smoke and have Nema approval — factory director

Residents walk along an alleyway with an open sewer at the Mukuru slum in Nairobi, Kenya July 19, 2017. /FILE
Residents walk along an alleyway with an open sewer at the Mukuru slum in Nairobi, Kenya July 19, 2017. /FILE

Mukuru kwa Reuben slum residents have long complained of chest pains and asthma. They blame it on gas and dust emissions from a subsidiary of Bhachu Industries Limited: Accurate Steel Mills.

However, the management of Bhachu denied the allegations.

Company director Gurveer Bhachu said: “I can confirm that we have all our licences, which are in accordance with international standards.”

Adding: “Both Nema and City Hall are aware of our existence, what we produce and the gases we emit. This is why we furnish them with environment monitoring reports that have been approved all through.”

Bhachu said they have installed catalytic converters that trap and regenerate heat back into the furnace. These converters, he said, have made it impossible for the company to lose gases through emissions.

“We have been here. We have over 1,000 permanent employees from the Reuben slum, and none of them has complained about anything,” he said.

Throughout the interview, Bhachu denied all claims by residents about the emissions, saying he visits the plant every day from 2pm and 5pm and neither he nor his managers have seen or heard of such smoke.

This, however, contradicted our assessment, and multiple videos and images showing the heavy, choking smoke that escapes through the factory’s walls, instead of through the two existing chimneys, forcing residents to vacate the area for several hours.

Bhachu was agitated as he said, "I am a multi-billion investor with about five banks lending me loans to run these businesses. With the trailer assembly, steel milling and manufacturing of gas cylinders, I cannot let such small issues affect such an investment. Otherwise, even Nema who is always tough on us would not have issued us the certificates.”

He showed copies from the authority, certifying that Bhachu had met all environmental standards. However, upon asking for the copy from Accurate Steel Mill, Bhachu said he would only produce the certificate when we had official letters indicating why we needed to see it.  

Bhachu demanded that we disclose who had fed us with the information. “I have employed these people. I run a school in their community and do many things for them. This is how they want to repay me?” he said.

So we wound up with two sides of the story: residents living with the effects of pollution that will affect them for years to come, and on the other hand, the company that denies all claims of polluting the environment.

Science, through the data collected by the air sensors, shows which side is true. There are heavy pollutants in the air, higher than the mandated Nema regulations for Particulate Matter.

Where is Nema in all this? Where is the local government? Where is the county government?

The reality is that the long-term effects of the air pollution that residents of Mukuru kwa Reuben are living under will feed into the greater cycle of poverty.

As people are unable to move due to the lack of affordable housing, they will be stuck with chronic respiratory diseases. Who speaks for the residents of Mukuru kwa Reuben?

Additional reporting by Naima Mungai with support of Code for Africa’s sensors. Africa project and African Drone.

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