And it doesn't stop there. Not content with threatening the health of working class people, the Portugese firm are also threatening freedom of speech. They have hassled the servers of Nerve magazine and the Kirkby Times (which had to be relaunched as the Liverpool Times), demanding that certain fact-based articles were taken down. Well they'll have a tough job intimidating Indymedia...
Campaigners have been trying to raise the alarm about Sonae’s activities since the Kirkby plant opened in 1999. A 2001 report by the Merseyside Hazards and Environmental Centre found that 'Local residents have documented classic symptoms of exposure to...hazards associated with the production of wood-based boards'. Similarly, a survey undertaken by Kirkby Against Toxic Sonae reported that '44.2% of responding households report that at least one member of the household has begun to suffer from a dry cough in the last 18 months.'
The Kirkby Times published disturbing photos of the Sonae ‘dust mountain’ in July 2003, and followed this up with pictures of gas clouds emerging from the factory’s chimney, which was a worrying sight for Sunday afternoon footballers on the nearby fields.
Nerve magazine has published two stories about Sonae’s crimes against humanity, leading to threats being made against their web server. A Spring 2004 article gave readers a summary of the ‘habitual offending’ against the government’s environmental and safety regulations, which resulted in small fines for the company and chronic illness for local residents. The Nerve website also features a 2001 article originally printed in TVS magazine, where a mother describes how:
'My 13 year old son left his bedroom window open one night, which he has never done before. 6 o’clock that morning he was taken to hospital with chest pains, difficulty breathing, he hit the floor as his legs gave in as he couldn’t stand up any longer. The hospital had to call in a cardiac nurse to check my son’s heart but were baffled because my son couldn’t breathe, he was pale, which is very unusual as my son is a very healthy boy.'
Since the Kirkby times relaunched as the Liverpool Times (using a server in the USA), the reporting of Sonae's atrocities has continued. On 25th October 2006, the website announced that the 'smell of the Sonae pollution was reported again by several residents of Northwood Kirkby', and that an employee of a company linked to Sonae had been sacked for allegedly passing-on information to the Kirkby Times. As news of the threats to Nerve spread, the website also raised the question of freedom of speech.
Even local corporate rags the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post haven’t been completely silent on the issue. For example, they mentioned it once the plant bosses promised to clean up their act and extend the chimney (as if that would magically reduce pollution). In April 2006, the paper trumpeted Sonae’s pathetic donation of £4,000 (or 0.01% of the company’s profits in the first nine months of last year) to Merseyside’s ‘Green Machine’ environmental campaign. A classic case of ‘greenwash’ if ever there was one.
So apart from the tax revenues a successful (or profitable) company brings in, why aren’t the authorities taking action against something so clearly damaging to people on Merseyside. Well, it just so happens that Sonae aren’t just into chipboard. Sonae Sierra, the shopping and leisure centres arm of Sonae GPRS, are 50% owned by Grosvenor. That company, dear reader, are currently developing the Paradise Project in the city centre, and are owned by the Duke of Westminster.
Something stinks, and it isn’t just the formaldehyde.