Oct 08 2007

Behind the Shining: Aluminum’s Dark Side

VII. Environmental Health

“I don’t see environmental issues as a negative for aluminum or Alcoa, they

are our friend. As long as legislatures and governing bodies don’t do

stupid things, we’ll be fine,” – Paul H. O’Neill, then-chairman of Alcoa

(now U.S. Secretary of the Treasury), as quoted in Aluminium Today, 1999.

(“O’Neill’s Alcoa: Big group with a big appetite,” Aluminium Today, Jan. 1,


Bauxite mining

According to the International Aluminium Institute, “of the land disturbed

each year by bauxite mining, 76% is forested, 19% agricultural and pasture

and 2% shrubland.” The IAI said that of the 1,591 hectares mined in 1998,

80% was wildlife habitat; 175 hectares was tropical rainforest.”

(International Aluminium Institute, “Bauxite mine rehabilitation,” on its

website, world-aluminium.org, 2000)

* Adjoemakondre, Surinam (Alcoa)

In a 1998 petition to the Surinam government, people of the village of

Adjoemakondre detailed the impacts of Alcoa’s bauxite mining operations

that began in 1991. “Our agricultural plots and houses have been destroyed,

without any compensation,” they wrote. “Our river has been polluted so

badly that we can no longer use it – wastes from the mining operation run

down hill through the village into the river, turning it an orange-brown

color; health problems have occurred from villagers using the river water;

use of dynamite by the company causes noise pollution and has contributed

to the loss of game animals we use for food; (and) destruction of the

forest and pollution of the river has also substantially limited our

ability to hunt and fish on our lands.” (Wilma Prika, Captain,

Adjoemakondre, Petition to the Suriname Government Concerning the Situation

in Adjoemakondre, 1998)

* Guinea

The Friguia mining/refining operation in Guinea, according to NorWatch, has

generated “an enormous red mud deposit, which covers an entire valley. In

this valley there were previously several villages, which are now drowned

in industrial waste. Hydro admits that this deposit is not ‘state of the

art’, for example it is not secured with a protective membrane to prevent

leakage of caustic soda and other effluents into the subsoil water. The

subsoil water has not been tested.” (Tarjei Leer-Salvesen and Morten

Rønning, “Profits on arms, forced relocation, and environmental scandals,”

NorWatch newsletter, June 1998).

Alumina refineries

The Bayer Process of refining bauxite into alumina generates red mud, also

known as bauxite residue. Depending on the grade of bauxite used, from 0.3

to 2.5 tons of red mud are generated per ton of alumina produced.

(International Aluminium Institute, “Bauxite residue,” on

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