By Mohammad Ben Hussein

AMMAN – Dozens of Fuheis residents demonstrated at the town square on Thursday demanding the relocation of a cement factory owned by the Jordan Lafarge Cement Factories Company.

A small town of 25,000 residents situated 10 kilometres west of Amman, Fuheis is known for its olive groves and pleasant weather.

But it hosts the cement factory, which residents blame for causing numerous health problems by emitting clouds of dust and chemicals.

Fuheis Mayor Jeryes Sweiss, who was among the protesters, blamed the government for its lack of action.

“We are members of civil society who want the factory to be placed outside of town,” Sweiss told The Jordan Times during the sit-in.

Residents said the health hazards are most visible during the dry summer months as orchards become coated with layers of cement dust.

“I have been living here for 30 years. Whenever I want to harvest olives, I first have to wash off layers of cement from the trees,” said resident Geris Dawood.

“Our town is infested with polluted air from the factory. We have been pushing for its relocation but we have failed,” added Dawood, who has filed a lawsuit claiming that the factory’s presence caused him numerous health problems.

The tension between the factory and Fuheis residents dates back to 1954, when the factory was established.

Town residents said they initially tolerated the plant due to its limited production.

However, after the French Lafarge Company acquired a stake, production and pollution almost tripled, according to George, a shop owner near the factory.

Officials from the Ministry of Environment and factory management refused to comment despite several attempts by The Jordan Times.

Previously, officials from the Ministry of Environment said a feasibility study is being carried out to determine the economic, environmental and social effects of relocating the factory before making a decision.

In 2005, the factory installed a $3.5 million dust filter in a bid to reduce emissions.

Company officials said at the time that filter, which replaced the old and ineffective de-dusting system, was part of their efforts to address the environmental concerns of the town’s residents.