Sharing air, land and water responsibly - and being trusted to do so by our neighbours - is critical to our future as a business. We need our stakeholders to trust us to share these vital resources responsibly. We will gain this trust by operating responsibly and transparently, demonstrating that we want to reduce negative environmental impacts, and by working in collaboration with partners and local communities to enhance the natural resources we all on rely on. This is key to our environmental stewardship.
Our aim is to ensure all major sites have in place an environmental improvement plan.
We know that air quality is among the most important issues for the communities around our operations. It is also a focus for regulators in China, Europe and the US, among others. Other stakeholders, including investors, pay close attention to it. We aim to be fully compliant with regulatory standards, to listen to concerns wherever they are raised, and to respond appropriately.
For steel, the main air emissions are dust, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx). Dust is the most visible of these environmental impacts. We discuss CO2 emissions in detail within Climate Change.
Steel: New technology has significantly reduced the amount of dust generated by a typical steel plant. Our global research and development (R&D) team has developed industry-leading techniques aimed at reducing dust and other emissions and we continue to expand on their use. Each year we commit large sums of investment to this initiative. We also continue to invest in monitoring our emissions, improving our production processes, and using techniques such as 'green belts' of trees to filter dust in the air. Because steel mills are often located in or very close to urban areas, dust and other air emissions are also a community engagement issue. So, communication and dialogue with local stakeholders is an important element of our environmental policy. For example, in Tubarão, Brazil we invite local neighbours onto the site every Saturday to see first-hand how we manage environmental issues.
Mining: In our mining operations, we're careful to identify the potential impacts of our operations on air quality and do all we can to mitigate them. We control our emissions as required by legislation, by for example, limiting the dust from iron ore stockpiles and on roads by spraying water over them. We've continued to make progress on implementing the ISO14001 environmental management standard at our mine sites.
Steel: Steel mills cannot operate without access to large volumes of water, both for consumption and for transportation – and therefore they have always been located next to water sources such as rivers, lakes and the sea. Water is used throughout the steelmaking process for cooling operations, descaling and dust scrubbing. We draw from a range of water sources: rivers, lakes, municipal water and sea water.
Some of our steel plants recycle each cubic metre of water as many as 75 times.
Even where water is plentiful, we generally treat and reuse it many times before we discharge it. Water treatment plays a vital role in improving the water efficiency of our operations, as well as managing the quality of our water effluent. In some cases, the water that leaves our sites can be cleaner than our water intake. The net use of water for every tonne of steel produced usually represents the amount of water lost to evaporation during the steelmaking process.
Mining: In mines, water suppresses dust, transports tailings and, most importantly, concentrates the extracted minerals. Water that's been used at a mine needs to be treated before discharge. Some of our mines use special thickeners to avoid the use of wet tailings storage facilities – this makes them much more efficient, since more water can be recirculated, and it minimises land disturbance.
Water availability and risks vary at our sites and each one monitors the risk of water scarcity. In recent years we have identified water scarcity risks to our operations in South Africa and Brazil. With the support of our global R&D division, we continue to look for opportunities to recycle and reuse water where it is an issue, and we also intensify our monitoring to reflect the needs and circumstances of the areas in which we operate. In Brazil, for example, where pressures on water use are increasing, we carry out extensive monitoring of our water use and discharge, and report on this in detail in the annual Brazil sustainability report. On water quality, our dedicated water treatment lab in Asturias, Spain explores how to use green technologies to minimise pollutants and increase the life of our equipment.
We use a water assessment tool developed by our global R&D and mining division across our mining operations. It’s helping us to create new water improvement plans such as the interception ditches at our Mont Wright and Fire Lake mines in Canada, which are designed to protect the surrounding lakes and rivers.
For the latest data on our water use globally, please visit our Factbook and also the relevant country sustainability report. We also disclose information on ArcelorMittal’s water use to the Carbon Disclosure Project each year.
Our sites range from biologically sensitive and protected areas such as tropical rainforest around our Liberian mines to densely populated urban locations where city has grown up around a steel plant. This means we face equally diverse challenges: the protection of pristine land, the conservation of biodiversity and the responsible exploitation of resources in conjunction with local inhabitants.
In mining, we can have responsibility for an area of land approximately 90% larger than the land that is actually being ‘used’ by the company. Expectations about how this land is managed – particularly areas not currently used for industrial purposes – are growing, around issues such as access rights and livelihood dependency. And there are liabilities associated with land tenure, which can require remedial action for decades after the end of the ‘use’ phase of the land.
The biodiversity at our sites varies greatly. Some sites are home to species of scientific interest, such as in the Nimba region of Liberia, where the process of our biodiversity conservation programme ArcelorMittal employee Wing-Yunn Crawley identified the Cephetola wingae butterfly. In Tubarão, Brazil, a colony of marine turtles swim and breed in the water outflow coming from the steel plant. The reptiles are captured for studies on biometric and growth, migratory patterns, hematological profile and health condition. We need to take particular care in such areas to ensure that these species can thrive. At other sites, a once environmentally sensitive area may have been impacted by the introduction of a steel mill several decades ago.
Mining generates mineral wastes, such as displaced rock or 'overburden', and 'tailings'. Tailings, the residues left when the ore is extracted, are discharged to a storage facility, where they're usually held in place by a dam. It's vital these are managed carefully to make sure they are structurally sound and pose no risk to local people's health and safety, or to the environment.
When planning to open a new steel plant or mine, we go through a rigorous preparation process. This includes a thorough assessment of the potential impacts of the new plant on local people, nearby ecosystems and habitats, as well as water and soil erosion. We then consult with local stakeholders, so that we can achieve the best possible balance between their needs and our own. Once the site is operational, we work in partnership with local stakeholders to monitor, manage and protect local biodiversity. We communicate this through our country reports.
Our existing operations aim to follow International Finance Corporation standards, which set out best practice in land management. At our mines, we monitor tailings facilities and carry out detailed inspections to make sure they're working to our guidance. At our Serra Azul mine in Brazil we developed new dry stacking technology, where tailings are dried so they can be stored in a more structurally stable form. And because our responsibility extends beyond the life of the mine, we design comprehensive closure plans for our sites, in consultation with local stakeholders.
Where land we own or under our licence is inactive important biodiversity may have developed, which sometimes includes endangered species. Here, our aim is to ensure we work responsively with local stakeholders and comply with regulations. At Burns Harbor in the US, for example, the team worked with local partners to restore and conserve land in our facilities, including the restoration of over 16 hectares (40 acres) of habitat.
At sites where we have endangered species and habitats, we regularly monitor and manage these areas. In Liberia, for example, we have researched methods to stop forest destruction and developed sustainable forest management projects with local communities, as part of our Biodiversity Conservation Programme launched in 2011. ArcelorMittal is a signatory to the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa, which aims to "ensure that the contribution of natural capital to sustainable economic growth, maintenance and improvement of social capital and human well-being is quantified and integrated into development and business practice".
Conserving biodiversity in the Nimba mountains
Ensuring the safety of communities near our tailings storage facilities
The tragedy of the Vale Feijão dam failure in 2019 prompted all mining companies to examine the monitoring systems at their tailings storage facilities (TSFs).
Paving the way to better roads in Brazil
A green belt for a better environment