The Canadian Company Agriums Agrochemical Ras El-Bar Project, Damietta, Egypt sign now

"To govern is to make choices", Duc de Levis (1812)

People of the Mediterranean City Domietta, Egypt urge the Egyptian intellectuals and Environmental NGO's to support their cause to stop or relocate the Canadian Agrium's project which poses a significant threat to their city and adds to the already outstanding risks to the ecosystems of the Nile River and Mediterranean sea.

We urge you to reconsider the currently proposed site in Ras El-Bar for Agriums Petrochemical Project based on the following concerns.

Damietta City and Core Economic Activities:

Damietta was known in Ancient age of Egypt by the name of TAMHEET, i.e. the North City. The Greek called it Tamiatty and the Copts Tamiat. After the Islamic Conquest it was known as Damietta, which is the current name. The city of Damietta lies in a unique location near where the eastern Nile enters the Mediterranean. This helped the city to specialize and become famous for building ships and fishing boats and later furniture manufacturing and marketing. Agriculture has also been the traditional backbone of the local economy as well as dairy production and fish farming that is still by far the most common form of employment in the city.


Agrochemicals pollute rivers, lakes and underground water and pose risks for human health and the environment. In general, the excessive and inappropriate use of chemical fertilizers in crop soils cause land degradation and losses in soil fertility worldwide. Moreover, agrochemicals cause water pollution that directly and indirectly affects human health. According to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in the Philippines, 37\% of the total water pollution in the country originates from agricultural practices, which include fertilizer and pesticide runoff. Further, any incident of leakage will have a significant impact on stocks of juvenile fish in the area. The leakage will deplete the adult stock fish which provide the future fish population for the local fish farms.
As for the risks for human health, Ammonia gas, for example, is extremely corrosive and irritating to the skin, eyes, nose, and respiratory tract. Exposure by inhalation causes irritation of the nose, throat, and mucous membranes. Lacrimation and irritation generally begin at 130 to 200 ppm, although symptoms of eye and upper tract respiratory tract irritation have been reported at 30-50ppm. The maximum short exposure tolerance has been reported as being 300-500 ppm for 0.5 to 1 hour. At 400-700 ppm severe eye and respiratory irritation can occur, with the potential for permanent damage. At 1700 ppm convulsive coughing and bronchial spasms occur, and half hour exposure to this concentration is potentially fatal. Exposure at 3000 ppm is intolerable and exposure to high concentrations (above approximately 2500 ppm) is life threatening, causing severe damage to the respiratory tract, resulting in bronchitis, chemical pneumonitis, and pulmonary edema (build-up of fluid in the lungs), which can be fatal. At 5000-10000 ppm, death can occur from suffocation.

Eye contact with ammonia vapour is severely irritating, and exposure of the eyes to liquid ammonia or mists can result in serious damage, which may result in permanent eye injury and blindness. Skin contact with ammonia vapor, mists, liquid and concentrated aqueous solutions can cause severe irritation and burns; contact with the liquid also results in cryogenic burns. Ingestion of liquid ammonia burns the tissues, causing severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and collapse and can be fatal. Ammonia has not been found to be carcinogenic or to show reproductive or developmental toxicity in humans.

The Scandal of Europes Chemical Mozzarella:

Last month, March 2008, a shadow hanged over one of the great staples of modern European life Italys mozzarella cheese. The scandal centres on the buffalo milk used to produce mozzarella di buffalo. High levels of dioxins, potentially hazardous pollutant chemicals, have been found in buffalo milk in a group of dairies in Campania, the southern province centring on Naples where most mozzarella production takes place.

Italys public health authorities believe that the contamination is the result of illegal dumping of toxic waste in Campania, where the waste industry is under the control of the Camorra, the local branch of the Mafia, and where Naples and its region are undergoing a major waste management crisis, with disposal facilities either broken or full!

Use of agrochemicals in Thailand and the Philippines and its consequences to the environment:

The current industrial agriculture systems in Thailand and the Philippines promote the reliance on agrochemicals, both synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, while neglecting to consider their negative effects on the economy of local communities, human health and environment. As a result, there is a high pollution of water sources through irrigation runoff, return flows and infiltration. For example, the high application rate of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in home gardens and commercial farms in the two countries led to the accumulation of nitrates in the top-soil, and contribute to the high potential for agrochemicals contamination in the groundwater.

Water pollution from nitrates derived from fertilizer runoff is widespread in the Philippines than previously thought. For example, a recent analysis by Greenpeace of groundwater in some parts of the country found that 30\% of the tested artesian wells had nitrates levels above the World Health Organization (WHO) drinking water safety limit. Anyone drinking from a contaminated well could be vulnerable to the long-term effects of nitrates, such as various types of cancer.

Eutrophication of coastal and marine ecosystems, caused in part by intensive fertilizer use, can also impact human health through ecological changes like the worldwide increase in harmful algal blooms. Algal blooms can lead to the proliferation of algal species that produce toxins. When the algae are ingested by shellfish this can result in neurological, amnesic, paralytic, and/or diarrheic shellfish poisoning in human consumers.

Incidents of ammonia release from the Profertil urea and ammonia facility, Bahia Blanca, Argentina in 2000:

The Profertil plant in Bahia Blanca, Argentina is designed to produce 1.1 million tonnes of urea and 775 thousand tonnes of ammonia annually (Profertil 2000). The start-up of the ammonia plant was completed in the first week of October 2000. Shortly after, a number of releases of ammonia have occurred at the plant.

On August 28th, an ammonia leak occurred during start up procedures. The leak is believed to have been caused by excess pressure in a tank holding 200 cubic metres of aqueous ammonia. Measurements taken after the release showed levels of ammonia in the air of between 40 and 100 ppm. The maximum allowable concentration is 35ppm. Levels of ammonia in the air at the time of the release may have been considerably high than these levels
People in the vicinity reported burning eyes and respiratory tract, and reported that it was impossible to breathe. More than 80 people were hospitalised, many requiring breathing assistance. Students at schools near to the industrial complex were evacuated. As a result of the release, the Argentinean regulatory agency Sectretaria de Polytica Ambiental (SPA) ordered the plant to stop production at the facility after August 31.

The Bhopal disaster in India and its aftermath:

On December 3 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from Union Carbide Corporation's pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to dissociate itself from legal responsibility. Eventually it reached a settlement with the Indian Government through mediation of that country's Supreme Court and accepted moral responsibility. It paid $470million in compensation, a relatively small amount of based on significant underestimations of the long-term health consequences of exposure and the number of people exposed. The disaster indicated a need for enforceable international standards for environmental safety, preventative strategies to avoid similar accidents and industrial disaster preparedness.

Prevention is better than cure:

After the significant increase in the number of Egyptians diagnosed and treated from cancer in the recent years, the time has come to recognize the false promise of the Green Revolution and for the Egyptian government to support the real revolution in farming that meets the needs of local communities and the environment, restores the land and enables the poor to combat hunger, displacement and depletion of their resources and culture.
The future of Egyptian farming lies in a modern type of agriculture that works with nature and with people, not against them. Thousands of Egyptian farms already prove that organic and sustainable agriculture can provide sufficient food, increase food security, replenish natural resources, and provide a better livelihood for farmers and local communities.
The people of Damietta, especially Ras El-Bar inhabitants, sincerely hoped that Agrium and its Egyptian partners would play a role model for other local businesses in considering social and environmental corporate responsibilities let alone national security. However, the consortium continue to assert that a study on the environment protection measures, including disposition of liquid and other waste, has been prepared. But if this is true why then similar earlier studies and measures failed to prevent "The Bhopal Chemical Disaster", which required $16billion to fix the human damage after 20 years:

Accordingly, we urge the Egyptian Government to stop this project in the proposed location in Ras El-Bar and to relocate it to a relatively more convenient site where it does not pose risks for human health and the environment. We are confident that your esteemed ministry will proactively address this issue in a manner that put our national interest first.

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Laurie SantiagoBy:
Justice, rights and public orderIn:
Petition target:
United Nations Environment Programme


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