The smell of concrete is in the air

People living in Caracas face multiple struggles in their everyday lives. Now, they can add one more: Breathing.

Suddenly, concrete plants, spreading all over the city.

According to some estimates, between six and ten concrete plants are now active inside the Caracas metropolitan area. The construction boom, driven mostly by the government’s big new housing program, which saw public spending on housing rise 131% year on year in the first quarter, is in plain sight. What a coincidence that this is all happening in an election year, huh?

Unsurprisingly, the enviromental hazards associated with making concrete in the middle of a city were not considered in the process. Now, there is evidence that the plants have produced a small increase of respiratory diseases.

The standout is the concrete plant installed on the Air Force Base known as La Carlota. This facility, which sits next to a factory/warehouse for “Canaimita” laptops, is the latest chapter of the neverending story that is the future of this airbase, located in the middle of the capital. While state media present it as a success, neighbors are demanding its inmediate closing and they’re organizing: from traditional protests to creating a blog.

Air pollution in Caracas didn’t start overnight. The city was already having a lack of clean air, produced in great part by traffic congestions and the conditions of many vehicules, including those dedicated to public transportation. It’s hard to say how big are the levels of pollution, given that the last study done by the authorities was two years ago. The surge of these concreteras makes it worse, something that locals are very aware about.

The official position of the Chavernment is simply dismiss the issue, while using it to exacerbate political polarization. The losers of all this are the people of Caracas, specially for the children who can’t even enjoy fresh air while they’re in school. Gracias, Farruco!

UPDATE: Commenter Roy shares an important point about the issue:

“The problem is NOT the existence of concrete batch plants inside the urban areas. All major cities have a proliferation of these plants. Normal standards for concrete construction require that the concrete be placed within one hour from the time that the water is introduced into the mix. Concrete batch plants are located throughout cities to provide ready-mix concrete to all locations in under a half-hour’s transit time (preferably less). These plants are usually located unobtrusively in hidden zones, but effective urban planning provides for these.

No, the problem is that the new plants are not implementing what are normal and routine measures for dust control and air quality management. Private enterprises have to do so, by law and custom. State enterprises… well, you can see the result. There is no accountability. Socialism at work…”

14 thoughts on “The smell of concrete is in the air

  1. The problem is NOT the existence of concrete batch plants inside the urban areas. All major cities have a proliferation of these plants. Normal standards for concrete construction require that the concrete be placed within one hour from the time that the water is introduced into the mix. Concrete batch plants are located throughout cities to provide ready-mix concrete to all locations in under a half-hour’s transit time (preferably less). These plants are usually located unobtrusively in hidden zones, but effective urban planning provides for these.

    No, the problem is that the new plants are not implementing what are normal and routine measures for dust control and air quality management. Private enterprises have to do so, by law and custom. State enterprises… well, you can see the result. There is no accountability. Socialism at work…

          • Thanks guys. This is something I actually know something about. On the politics, I am only an amateur wonk.

            For anyone who is actually interested, the following PDF has some information regarding the basic process and section 11.12.2, in particular, has information on Emissions and Controls. If you can follow it, you will see that the control of emissions does not involve any high technology. It is simply a matter of using basic procedures with diligence.

            http://www.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch11/final/c11s12.pdf

            That the socialist plants cannot manage this is a travesty and an insult to the real professionals in this business as well a health threat to the public. As for the housing projects being built by the same socialist pretenders, who disdain those with actual education and experience, I expect that within five years, most of the projects built under this regimen will have to be condemned and demolished, due to the shoddy materials and workmanship. See Island Canuck’s comment below.

  2. My take is that Julio Borges really needs to change tacks on the housing thing. With big rises in cement production and re-bar imports, with public sector construction GDP in a dizzying boom, the old line about GMVV being an empty promise falls flat. People can see the boom.

    It makes him seem out of touch and irrelevant.

  3. I just passed a new building site of government homes here in our area of Isla Margarita.

    To me it’s a huge joke. They are using foam boards with some thin metal webbing like chicken wire with no apparent columnas or vigas. They look like the proverbial house of cards just waiting for the wolf to blow them down. I was going to take a picture but there was too much traffic at the time. I’ll try & go back soon and take some photos.

    I assume they will put a plaster or something over the foam but even then any kind of strong wind is going to collapse them. If you haven’t seen them you wouldn’t believe it.

    • It sounds like you are referring to ICFs: Insulated concrete forms. These are exactly as you describe when first stood up, but then later the foam forms are filled with concrete, creating one of the strongest, cheapest, best-insulated homes you can build. There are problems with ICFs, but I suspect you were just seeing them half-done.

      • Yes, isn’t that what is planned in Brazil. (Brazil claims they will solve the housing problem before the Olympics and clear out all slums)
        I think these “ICF’s” were originally designed by a company in US, and Brazil bought the patent- anyway-there are several variations. – I like one I saw outside Phoenix-dome shaped ran by a German fellow- had plans to build a community of 200 of them.
        They build the shell and you complete the interior. And, they use almost no energy for heating and cooling…Anyway, the dome shaped are very resistant to wind too.

        • I forgot to add- supposed to build lots of these in Haiti- but, that may never happen…
          I know this is way off-but Haiti- did you hear about the gun powder factory Chavez is
          paying for in Haiti. Yep, you know the Haitians really need that!! Attaboy,Chavez.

  4. Link: http://repository.ksu.edu.sa/jspui/bitstream/123456789/2857/1/HEALTH%20HAZARDS%20OF%20CEMENT%20DUST.pdf
    ABSTRACT
    Even in the twenty-first century, millions of people are working daily in a dusty environment.
    They are exposed to different types of health hazards i.e., fume, gases and dust, which are
    risk factors in developing occupational disease. Cement industry is involved in the
    development of structure of this advanced and modern world but generates dust during its
    production. Cement dust causes lung function impairment, chronic obstructive lung disease,
    restrictive lung disease, pneumoconiosis and carcinoma of the lungs, stomach and colon.
    Other studies have shown that cement dust may enter into the systemic circulation and
    thereby reach the essentially all the organs of body and affects the different tissues including
    heart, liver, spleen, bone, muscles and hairs and ultimately affecting their micro-structure and
    physiological performance.
    Most of the studies have been previously attempted to evaluate the effects of cement dust
    exposure on the basis of spirometry and / or radiology. However, collective effort describing
    the general effects of cement dust on different organ and systems in humans and / or animals
    has not been published. Therefore, the aim of this review is to gather the potential toxic
    effects of cement dust and to minimize the health risks in cement mill workers by providing
    them with information about the hazards of cement dust.

  5. Highly “Strategic”, no doubt . It surely is not exclusive to Socialism, but it’s exacerbated by the Socialist mindset. If they are serious, they’ll swear they have some sort of battle going on, and health is just collateral damage.

    You nailed it Quico. It basically boils down to how “State enterprise” is much less accountable in ALL areas than private enterprise. Surprise surprise, environmental impact and safety is one such area.

  6. Can Chavez socialist concrete be trusted? Mismanagement could be disastrous. Imagine buildings collapsing because the construction manager was a friend of Chavez rather than a concrete engineer.

  7. If the answer is anything like China, then no. Look at all the buildings that collapsed in the Guangzhou earthquake. And China has something of a functioning independent building inspection capability. Venezuela not so much.

    People will be paying with their lives for these houses. Probably just a few years from now. That said, they are still safer than the illegal shanties Chavez has forced people in before now, but still not as good as the houses that would have been provided had Chavez been capable of keeping up the policies of his predecessors. Still, after 12 years of utter failure, this new boom will seem like a success. Chavez is like a child who has failed for years in school, and now gets Cs and Ds, voters will reward him for that. Depressing but true.

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