RPT-Umicore boss pledges 'green buffer zone' near Antwerp plant

(Repeats story to more subscribers)

March 17 (Reuters) - The head of Belgian battery maker Umicore said on Wednesday it would create a buffer zone near its Hoboken plant on the outskirts of Antwerp, after blood readings last year showed high levels of lead in children living nearby.

Umicore said it had made significant progress with lead and cadmium emissions, but saw clear room for improvement on arsenic and lead in coarse dust.

“We are offering families with children in the vicinity the possibility to sell their houses at attractive prices, so that we can create a green buffer zone,” CEO Marc Grynberg said in a statement.

In a presentation last week, the firm said that of the 170 houses up for sale in Moretusburg - a residential area close to the site - 58 owners had received purchase proposals and 37 had accepted the offer.

It added that the City of Antwerp was considering relocating social housing tenants living in areas most exposed to dust from the factory to Umicore-owned housing in a less polluted zone of the neighbourhood.

On Wednesday Umicore said it had responded to concerns by cleaning roads at the plant more intensively, fully covering new raw material storage areas and taking into account new weather patterns caused by climate change.

It also said that it was improving its fire prevention measures, after a fire broke out in its lead refinery in March last year.

Umicore, which makes catalytic converters and battery materials for carmakers, says it is investing 25 million euros ($29.94 million) a year in improving its environmental performance. ($1 = 0.8351 euros) (Reporting by Sarah Morland in Gdansk, editing by Philippa Fletcher)