Value Trading, previously known as Tony Goetz, established itself in Jacob Jacobsstraat near Central Station in 2002. The protest against this precious metal processor broke out in 2021. The company applied for an extension of the environmental permit. 3,300 objections were received.
There is a lot of concern among local residents, especially Jewish Orthodox Antwerp residents. According to them, Value Trading is responsible for the large number of cancer cases in the neighborhood. Many demonstrations followed, with up to five hundred residents at the company gate and at the Antwerp city hall.
The company denied the allegations. It emphasized that emissions always remained below standard values.
Value Trading hoped for a ten-year extension, but would ultimately only receive a three-year environmental permit in January 2022. During that period, the company had to look for a new location. Local residents did not agree and demanded that the company close immediately.
READ ALSO.PVDA requests closure of precious metal processor Value Trading
In the meantime, more and more studies indicate that there is actually pollution, resulting in health problems.
During an investigation in April last year, exceedances of the soil remediation standard for lead and zinc were discovered near Jacob Jacobsstraat. “The investigation is still ongoing,” OVAM spokesperson Jan Verheyen said at the time. “It is not yet clear what the extent and source of the pollution are.”
The results were confirmed in July 2023. Increased concentrations of heavy metals were found in the soil in the vicinity of Value Trading.
Professor and toxicologist Ben Nemery (KU Leuven) has now found increased lead levels in the urine of children from the neighborhood. “These results indicate that some children in the neighborhood are, or were, exposed to high levels of lead,” the toxicologist said. Flemish Minister of Welfare and Health Hilde Crevits (CD&V) is therefore starting a blood test on two hundred children and mothers in the Antwerp station area.
The problem remains proving who is responsible for this pollution. Local residents point to Value Trading, but this could also be historical pollution.
“The emission measurements, anywhere in the area, do not show in any way that harmful substances are being emitted,” said Antwerp’s Environmental Alderman Tom Meeuws (Vooruit) in May this year. “We don’t know yet what is going on. There are probably various forms of historical lead pollution. Traditionally, this can come from the railways, renovation works where lead has been used, lead-containing paint, corrosion of the roofs…
In the meantime, the company fought a legal battle with Flemish Minister of the Environment Zuhal Demir (N-VA). In November 2022, she refused the three-year environmental permit for precious metal processor Value Trading. According to her, there is too much uncertainty about the company’s actual emissions and the impact on the neighborhood. The company appealed, but without result. The minister maintains her position.
Value Trading also clashed with the Forum of Jewish Organizations in May 2023. According to the company, the protest had nothing to do with health problems. “It would not be the first time that they try to undermine a local entrepreneur through bullying behavior and false accusations in order to acquire the buildings themselves,” the company said.
The Forum of Jewish Organizations demanded an apology from Value Trading and threatened legal action. “Such anti-Semitic discourse cannot be tolerated,” he said.
The Goetz family, managers of Value Trading, is not without reproach. Some family members were convicted in 2020 for forgery and money laundering. The United States has imposed financial sanctions against Antwerp gold trader Alain Goetz and his network of companies in 2022. He is said to have been involved in the illegal export of Congolese ‘war gold’. At The time he then said that this was all based on wrong information and that it would be corrected quickly.
READ ALSO.Elevated lead levels detected in children in the Antwerp station area