Heavy industry, including the steel industry, always has made a bad name for itself when it comes to pollution. Coke ovens and blast furnaces can be noisy, smelly and cause a lot of dust, which must be the bane of anyone contemplating to hang their washing out in a Port Talbot.

The hardest one of these to deal with were the PM10s, particles small enough to lodge themselves into the lungs of anyone breathing them in. When an analysis was performed, the dominant factor involved turned out to be the weather : mostly wind (especially the wind direction) and rain (or lack thereof making dust more prevalent), and all you could try and do was shut certain processes down if you were in danger of breaching your daily limit, and maximise certain dust suppression measures.

One of the sources of dust were the Kress carriers in the slab yards, and also one of the reason I couldn’t open the windows of my office in the hot mill in Port Talbot, even if the sun shone in in the summer and the temperatures exceeded 30 deg.C : dare to do so for even a few minutes and your desk and everything on it would be covered in a layer of dust.

Still, there was always the plume coming out of the sinter plant, and although that didn’t cause PM10s, the amount of crap in the air became all too evident if your car was parked near the blast furnaces and a light drizzle set in : you’d come back to your car in the evening to find it covered in a grimy layer of iron oxide dust, which needed several buckets of water to get remove.

You can imagine what happens to this fast when the wind comes from the south-west and there’s an inversion that traps the pollution against the Port Talbot headlands – no wonder the place is one of the most polluted in the UK.

Still, thus type of pollution is nothing compared to what I experienced in Iscor. Vanderbijlpark was not too badly affected, since it was not that close to the steel plant or the ore beds, but you only had to drive South from Johannesburg on the motorway to see a cloud hanging above the steelworks that was visible from about 20 miles.

Even worse was the lime powder that collected along the footpath to the technology building, because that’s where the train loads of raw materials (including limestone) came into the BOS plant. Walking through a few inches of lime dust was one thing, but one time I walked through a fog made up of lime dust – a good thing that was a one-off, because that definitely can’t be good for your health if it happened on a regular basis.

I suppose I was one of the lucky ones in that most of the time I could hide indoors away from the immediate sources of dust, so I probably avoided anything unpleasant in my later life. At least, I hope so.


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