Workers Are Dying in the EV Industry’s ‘Tainted’ City – by Peter Yeung (Wired Magazine – February 28, 2023)

In Indonesia, sickness and pollution plague a sprawling factory complex that supplies the world with crucial battery materials.

AFTER DAYBREAK, THE village of Labota begins to shudder with the roar of motorbikes. Thousands of riders in canary yellow helmets and dust-stained workwear pack its ramshackle, pothole-ridden main road, in places six or seven lanes wide, as it runs along the coast of Indonesia’s Banda Sea. The mass of traffic crawls toward the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park, better known as IMIP, the world’s epicenter for nickel production.

“This is a tainted city,” says Sarida, a woman in her forties buying cough medicine at a roadside pharmacy. Only her eyes are visible; the rest wrapped in a face mask, hijab, and burqa. Behind her, a factory belches out brown plumes as thick as a skyscraper.

Sarida, who asked to not share her surname for privacy reasons, arrived in 2019 from Kalimantan, a region on the island of Borneo 800 kilometers to the west, after her husband got a job processing wastewater at a nickel company. “We will leave as soon as we can,” she adds, mounting her red Honda moped. “Before we have to be carried out.”

A decade ago, Labota was a fishing village; today it’s been subsumed into a sprawling city centered around IMIP, a $15 billion, 3,000-hectare industrial complex containing steelworks, coal power plants, and manganese processors, with its own airport and seaport.

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