Jun 10 2011
1 Comment

Increased Sulphur Pollution in Reykjavík Due to Geothermal Expansion in Hellisheiði

The Public Health Authority of Reykjavík is highly critical of the recently published preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for a 45 MW construction of geothermal power plants at Gráuhnjúkar on Hellisheiði. The reason is that the EIA, carried out by engineering firm Mannvit, hardly mentions the possible effects of the project’s sulphur pollution on the human population living in the capital area of Reykjavík. “They mention the impacts of increased amount of hydrogen sulphide at the power plant area, but hardly mention the capital area where a high proportion of the population lives” said Árný Sigurðardóttir from the Public Health Authority in an interview with newspaper Fréttablaðið. The power plant in Hellisheiði is only about 30 km away from Reykjavík.

Since October 2006 Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (Reykjavík Energy) has produced geothermal energy on Hellisheiði, predominantly for the Norðurál/Century aluminium smelter in Grundartangi, Hvalfjörður. Since then increased sulphur pollution in the power plant’s surrounding area, as well as in the area around Reykjavík, has regularly become a topic of discussion and Sigurðardóttir says that the pollution’s impacts are systematically underestimated. Instead of using recent researches into the issue, Mannvit bases the EIA on prediction-models, but new studies by the University of Reykjavík indicate that the increased use of medicine for asthma and heart disease angina pectoris is directly linked to increased sulphur pollution.

Sigurðardóttir pointed out that according to an assessment made by the Public Health Authority (PHA) the construction at Gráuhnjúkar could increase the amount of sulphur in air by 40 percent. Since the energy production at Hellisheiði started in 2006, increase by 140 percent has already been measured at Hvaleyrarholt, close to Hafnarfjörður. The PHA’s concerns are the exact same as those from the PHA of Hafnarfjörður and Kópavogur. In the preliminary EIA there is no mention of climate and the fact that due to easterly winds the pollution from the power plant travels regularly to Reykjavík.

The impacts of hydrogen sulphide are well known but there is lack of knowledge about the long term impacts of low sulphur valency on people’s health. Sigurðardóttir said that nothing is known about the results of Reykjavík Energy’s experiments with refinery equipment. “Suitable equipment already exists but it is expensive and there is a question how much will there is to put it up” she said.

Mannvit, the engineering firm that made the preliminary EIA, is directly connected with the construction of Hellisheiði power plant and the planned expansion at Gráuhnjúkar. The company, which according to its website states to be “dedicated to the development of green energy”, is the result of the merger of Iceland’s three major engineering firms: Hönnun hf., VGK hf. and Rafhönnun hf. Due to the 2008 merger, Mannvit is linked to all major energy and heavy industry projects in Iceland, as the three merged companies “have played significant roles in Iceland’s development into a modern, industrialized nation,” like it says on their website. The list of Mannvit’s projects includes the three aluminium smelters in Reyðafjörður, Grundartangi and Straumsvík, as well as the Kárahnjúkar dam.

See also this analysis from Saving Iceland on the harmful effects of geothermal energy on an industrial scale: Development of Iceland’s Geothermal Energy Potential for Aluminium Production – A Critical Analysis PDF

One Response to “Increased Sulphur Pollution in Reykjavík Due to Geothermal Expansion in Hellisheiði”

  1. - says:

    7 times the pollution of all smelters in the country combined: