By Brittany Gardner
We woke up to a nice breakfast at the Zámek Zábřeh hotel. The day started relatively early with a visit to the ArcelorMittal steel production facility. ArcelorMittal is the biggest producer of steel in the world, with almost 200,000 employees. The company employs 7,100 people in Ostrava alone. The Ostrava plant is located on 104 hectares of land.
We were warmly greeted by members of the company. The group viewed a presentation on the steel production process from beginning to end and learned about what the company is doing to reduce their environmental impacts. ArcelorMittal is making significant leaps towards more sustainable production. The plant focuses on waste and water management, plant care and air protection. From 2000 to 2016 they have reduced their waste production by 75%.
ArcelorMittal is going beyond governmental regulations regarding sustainable practices with various activities. For example, they separate their water usage into that for drinking, utility, and operational functions and handle wastewater differently in each situation. Most water is reused. Tree planting has also been implemented to reduce dust and noise emissions. The city of Ostrava is located between two mountain ranges, which results in what is called an ‘inversion’. Polluted air has difficulty dispersing, and as a result, pollution stays trapped and the air quality is especially low during the winter months. Despite the company’s efforts, this remains a problem.
After the presentation, we were able to see the steel production steps firsthand. Each student was properly dressed in coats, helmets, protective goggles and earplugs. We piled into a bus to travel to each section of the facility. From coke production to boilers, each step of production is a massive process.
After leaving ArcelorMittal, we traveled to the government offices for the Moravian-Salesian Region of the Czech Republic, within which Ostrava is located. We spoke with a panel regarding local steps towards sustainable practices. A lot of the information from the panel mirrored that of the ArcelorMittal employees, especially regarding air quality. This reflects good coordination between government and industry. From this experience, it was obvious that the community is proud of their local manufacturing ability. Their air quality issues are, however, significant. They are attributable not only to the heavy industry, but also inefficient home heating systems, transportation emissions, and pollution from facilities in neighboring Poland.
Lastly, for the day, we visited a local NGO that focuses on the Roma, which are a marginalized population within the Czech Republic. The Roma are people of color inordinately discriminated against by the larger population. Housing was a key topic of discussion. The Roma have been treated as lesser individuals and moved around from more popular areas to less desirable ones as conditions have changed. Most recently, they are being moved from the city center as it gentrifies. Many live in government-sponsored housing with owners that have little motivation to upkeep. The NGO fights for the basic human rights of the Roma and fostering of positive public opinions.
After such a long day, the students more than welcomed a dinner of sweet and savory crepes at a restaurant in downtown Ostrava. A few students, myself included, mustered enough energy to go see the local nightlife. The main street was lined with bars and restaurants with welcoming staff. Overall, the first day in Ostrava was packed with new learning experiences and a mind opening outlook on cultural differences.