Oct 08 2007

Behind the Shining: Aluminum’s Dark Side

Sulfur Dioxide

The aluminum industry generates sulfur dioxide emissions through the

burning of fossil fuels at its captive power plants, the generation of

steam at alumina refineries, and the consumption of anodes in smelter pots.

Point Comfort, Texas (Alcoa)

Alcoa’s refinery and smelter complex in Point Comfort, Texas, is a federal

Superfund site. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration, “between 1948 and the present, Alcoa has constructed and

operated several types of manufacturing processes at this facility,

including aluminum smelting, carbon paste and briquette manufacturing,

gas processing, chlor-alkali processing, and alumina refining. Past

operations at the facility have resulted in the release of hazardous

substances into the environment, including through the discharge of

mercury-containing wastewater into Lavaca Bay from 1966 to 1970 and

releases of mercury into the bay through a groundwater pathway. In

April 1988, the Texas Department of Health issued a ‘closure order’

prohibiting the taking of finfish and crabs for consumption from a

specified area of Lavaca Bay near the facility due to elevated mercury

concentrations found in these species.” (National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration, “Alcoa Point Comfort/Lavaca Bay NPL Site, Point Comfort,

Texas: Notice of Availability and Request for Comments on a Draft Damage

Assessment and Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment for Ecological

Injuries and Service Losses,” Federal Register, July 14, 2000 (Volume 65,

Number 136), pp. 43739-43740)

IX. Aluminum and global warming

[see old chapter nine]

The aluminum industry is a significant contributor to global climate change

for two reasons: (1) it consumes enormous amounts of energy, much of it

fossil fuels such as coal that release carbon dioxide when burned and (2)

aluminum smelters produce small quantities of extremely potent greenhouse


An MIT study found that the industry emits the equivalent of over 3 billion

tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about 1 percent of global emissions of

anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This study further predicts a rise

in total emissions to around 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by

the year 2030.

In 1999, The Australia Institute, an environmental group, reported that

shutting down the country’s smelters would be a net economic benefit for

Australia. It claimed that subsidies of A$410 million for inexpensive

energy and A$430 million for “unpaid” greenhouse gas emissions outweigh the

smelters’ economic contributions. (Stephen Johnston, “Aluminium,” Mining

Annual Review, March 2000)

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