Acre Ruling Slows Environmental Ministry's Air Pollution Campaign

A judge in Acre on Sunday placed a major stumbling block before the Environmental Protection Ministry in its battle against industrial air pollution, acquitting the management of an electrochemical plant of a series of allegations that it had emitted excessive toxic substances from its facility near the northern coastal city.

The plant manufactured PVC and other potentially dangerous materials until its closing five years ago. For years, area residents claimed it presented a health hazard due to its emission of toxic substances like mercury, vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride. The plant is currently abandoned.

The ministry filed an indictment against several individuals managing the plant in 2003. The ministry said that that year four incidents of excessive emission of pollutants into the air were noted at the facility.

One incident involved an explosion in the factory which sent a number of toxic gases into the air. The defendants denied that emissions caused by that incident were at illegal levels.

Acre Magistrate's Court Judge Moshe Alter wrote in his ruling that toxic emissions are to be expected given the nature of the plant, and that the onus was on the prosecutors to prove that such substances were being released at levels dangerous to human beings.

"No proof was presented that any individual not located on the factory grounds during the incidents incurred any harm or disability due to the air pollution," the judge wrote.

Alter rejected a ministry official's testimony that area residents had complained to his office of eye infections, ruling it as hearsay. He also rejected the testimony of one resident, who claimed to have seen significant amounts of black smoke emitted from the plant, noting that the individual's measurements were not scientific and therefore imprecise.