Oct 08 2007

Behind the Shining: Aluminum’s Dark Side

Asthma

In 1999, the Comalco/Rio Tinto-controlled Boyne Smelters Ltd of Australia

settled a ten-year lawsuit filed by 18 pot room workers. Boyne paid over

A$1 million to settle claims that they contracted asthma working at the

smelter. (Stephen Johnston, “Aluminium,” Mining Annual Review, March 2000)

Flouride emissions

Flourides are produced during the reduction of alumina, during “anode

effects.” Small quantities of these emissions have big impacts.

The contributions of these emissions are discussed in the Global Warming

chapter of this report. The principal kinds of fluorides emitted,

tetrafluoromethane and hexafluoroethane, also have significant local health

impacts.

In India, the NALCO aluminum smelter in Angul, Orissa, is widely believed

to be the source of severe fluoride contamination among people and animals

living nearby. This plant discharges more than 220 tons of fluoride into

the groundwater and surface water, according to 1992 tests run by the

Orissa State Prevention and Control of Pollution Board. (“TTPS releases SPM

into Nandira,” Nandira, March 1993)

Many villagers have reported brittle bones, tooth and gum diseases, lumps

of dead skin, and a host of other symptoms of fluorosis. Cattle, more prone

to fluoride contamination, commonly suffer from bone deformities, the loss

of teeth, a sharp drop in birth rates and a sharp rise in death rates. In

one village, one kilometer from the Angul plant, the number of cattle

declined from 3,000 to less than 100 head over a ten year period. (“The

Spectre of Industrial Pollution in Angul-Talcher Area,” Nandira newsletter

of District Industrial Pollution Control and Citizens’ Action Project,

Dhenkanal, Angul, late 1993, p. 16)

Although state regulators have demanded that NALCO provide piped water to

local villages, company officials have denied that they are responsible for

the fluorosis outbreak, and the resultant decimation of the local cattle

herds. The smelter’s discharge canal, which flows into the Nandira river,

is used by people for bathing, washing clothes, and drinking. (Nandira,

1993)

In the same Indian state, the Indalco smelter caused widespread fluorosis

among local villagers. In 1990, scientists from G.M. College of Sambalpur

examined villagers and found that an astounding 67 percent of men and 64

percent of women suffered from fluorosis. People aged 12 to 19 were most

severely impacted. The researchers also found that the water and vegetation

in the areas were “highly contaminated by fluorides.” (U.N. Samal and B.N.

Naik, “Dental fluorisis in human beings around an aluminium factory of

Orissa,” Journal of Environmental Biology, V. 11, No. 4, Oct. 1990)

Despite this track record, in 2000 and 2001 Nalco is expanding its capacity

from 230,000 to 345,000 tons. (Stephen Johnston, “Aluminium,” Mining Annual

Review, March 2000)

In British Columbia, Alcan’s Kitimat smelter is Canada’s largest emitter of

hydrogen fluoride. In 1997, the plant released over 485 tons of hydrogen

fluoride, accounting for 9% of the province’s on-site releases. (Burkhard

Mausberg, Canadian Environmental Defense Fund in Toronto)

The 514,000 ton per year aluminum smelter in Tursunzade, Tajikistan, has

been “the source of significant adverse health effects, both to the

residents of Tursunzade in Tajikistan and the bordering communities in

Uzbekistan. Livestock were losing their teeth and dying, and the teeth of

local children have been found to be discolored,” according to the Slavic

Research Center. The plant emitted, at peak operating capacity, 193 tons of

fluorides annually. (Bakhtior Islamov, “Aral Sea Catastrophe: Case for

National, Regional and International Cooperation,” Slavic Research Center,

1998)

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