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10:50

Brazil: Residents accuse Norwegian Norsk Hydro of polluting Amazon city

March 19, 2018 at 14:52 GMT +00:00 · Published

Residents of Barcarena, a city in the north of Brazil, are suffering from diarrhoea, stomach pains and skin itching since a record amount of rain reportedly cause a bauxite residue disposal reservoir to spill last February 16, 2017. The pool waste belongs to the Alunorte aluminium refinery, owned by Norwegian aluminium firm Norsk Hydro.

Local residents of the area were seen protesting in front of the refinery's entrance on March 1, demanding that the company takes responsibility for the disaster. The company denies that there was any spill or contamination, but on a statement recognised that it used a canal to discharge rainwater from the factory into the local river on the occasion. "Rainwater from the refinery area may contain bauxite dust and traces of caustic soda, but the water had not been in contact with the bauxite residue deposit areas," reads the company statement.

According to the local people, during the storm, red-coloured water flooded their houses and contaminated the region. Following the incident, residents that live in the area around the waste pool started to feel the symptoms.

"My daughters started to have diarrhoea and body itching and I started to feel the difference in the water. Before [the overflooding of the disposal] there was nothing like this, we drank the water and didn't feel bad. Their [her daughters'] stomachs started to swell," said Lidiane Castro da Silva, a Barcarena resident and mother of two daughters. Ruptly contacted Hydro for a comment on the situation and the company says that the basic infrastructure in Barcarena is poor and not functioning and that most of the symptoms "are related to lack of sanitation and tropical diseases."

On the days following the incident, the Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI), a research institute linked to the Brazilian Health Ministry, performed experiments on water from the rivers and the flooded areas around the waste pool that supposedly flooded last February. The results showed that the waters of Barcarena are contaminated with aluminum.

"The Brazilian law is very clear. There can be a maximum level of 0.1 ppm [parts per million] of aluminum on the water surface. We found on the water surface of the [local river] Igarape Murucupi and near the communities, levels of 2.6 ppm to 3.6 ppm, meaning that those levels are 25 times to 30 times more than what is allowed by Brazilian law," stated Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, a researcher from the ECI. According to Lima, the symptoms that the population are complaining about may be caused by an aluminium contamination. Although there is still no conclusive research proving the connection between the diseases reported in the area and the contamination. On an interview via email, Norsk Hydro told Ruptly that the water in Barcarena is indeed "not good, but there can be many sources that led to this contamination." They also stated that hired an environmental agency, SWG Services, to conduct an "independent review" of the situation.

After the reports of the spill and contamination, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) - an environmental agency that belongs to the Federal government - conducted research in the area - together with ECI - and fined Norsk Hydro 20 million reals (Around €5 million / $6.13 million) for operating without a license. They also ordered the company to stop using one of its waste pools. When contacted by Ruptly, Ibama did not confirm neither the spill nor the contamination of the area. "Ibama does not have evidence to confirm that there was a contamination and how big it was," read the statement.

This is not the first time that the Alunorte refinery is being accused of environmental damages. In 2009, a spill, where water with red mud and bauxite residue overflowed the drainage channels around a deposit, contaminated the area. By that time, Hydro Norsk had a minority stake in the company, which was controlled by Brazilian Vale. The lawyer from the Association for Caboclos, Indigenous and Quilombolas of the Amazon (Cainquiama), Ismael Moraes, who represents communities around the refinery, issued a lawsuit against Norsk Hydro in November 2017, asking for a compensation of 500 million reals (€125 million / $153 million) for damages caused to all the surrounding communities throughout the years. "The effects of the contamination of the effluents of solid residual has been happening some decades," said Ismael. Via email, Norsk Hydro confirmed the existence of the process, but added that the company does "not comment on ongoing lawsuits."

Norsk Hydro Alunorte in Barcarena is the world's largest aluminium refinery and was bought by the Norwegian company from Brazilian Vale in 2011. Alunorte has a nameplate capacity of an annual 6.3 million tonnes, according to Norsk Hydro's website.

Credit for Drone Footage: Pedrosa Neto

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Description

Residents of Barcarena, a city in the north of Brazil, are suffering from diarrhoea, stomach pains and skin itching since a record amount of rain reportedly cause a bauxite residue disposal reservoir to spill last February 16, 2017. The pool waste belongs to the Alunorte aluminium refinery, owned by Norwegian aluminium firm Norsk Hydro.

Local residents of the area were seen protesting in front of the refinery's entrance on March 1, demanding that the company takes responsibility for the disaster. The company denies that there was any spill or contamination, but on a statement recognised that it used a canal to discharge rainwater from the factory into the local river on the occasion. "Rainwater from the refinery area may contain bauxite dust and traces of caustic soda, but the water had not been in contact with the bauxite residue deposit areas," reads the company statement.

According to the local people, during the storm, red-coloured water flooded their houses and contaminated the region. Following the incident, residents that live in the area around the waste pool started to feel the symptoms.

"My daughters started to have diarrhoea and body itching and I started to feel the difference in the water. Before [the overflooding of the disposal] there was nothing like this, we drank the water and didn't feel bad. Their [her daughters'] stomachs started to swell," said Lidiane Castro da Silva, a Barcarena resident and mother of two daughters. Ruptly contacted Hydro for a comment on the situation and the company says that the basic infrastructure in Barcarena is poor and not functioning and that most of the symptoms "are related to lack of sanitation and tropical diseases."

On the days following the incident, the Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI), a research institute linked to the Brazilian Health Ministry, performed experiments on water from the rivers and the flooded areas around the waste pool that supposedly flooded last February. The results showed that the waters of Barcarena are contaminated with aluminum.

"The Brazilian law is very clear. There can be a maximum level of 0.1 ppm [parts per million] of aluminum on the water surface. We found on the water surface of the [local river] Igarape Murucupi and near the communities, levels of 2.6 ppm to 3.6 ppm, meaning that those levels are 25 times to 30 times more than what is allowed by Brazilian law," stated Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, a researcher from the ECI. According to Lima, the symptoms that the population are complaining about may be caused by an aluminium contamination. Although there is still no conclusive research proving the connection between the diseases reported in the area and the contamination. On an interview via email, Norsk Hydro told Ruptly that the water in Barcarena is indeed "not good, but there can be many sources that led to this contamination." They also stated that hired an environmental agency, SWG Services, to conduct an "independent review" of the situation.

After the reports of the spill and contamination, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) - an environmental agency that belongs to the Federal government - conducted research in the area - together with ECI - and fined Norsk Hydro 20 million reals (Around €5 million / $6.13 million) for operating without a license. They also ordered the company to stop using one of its waste pools. When contacted by Ruptly, Ibama did not confirm neither the spill nor the contamination of the area. "Ibama does not have evidence to confirm that there was a contamination and how big it was," read the statement.

This is not the first time that the Alunorte refinery is being accused of environmental damages. In 2009, a spill, where water with red mud and bauxite residue overflowed the drainage channels around a deposit, contaminated the area. By that time, Hydro Norsk had a minority stake in the company, which was controlled by Brazilian Vale. The lawyer from the Association for Caboclos, Indigenous and Quilombolas of the Amazon (Cainquiama), Ismael Moraes, who represents communities around the refinery, issued a lawsuit against Norsk Hydro in November 2017, asking for a compensation of 500 million reals (€125 million / $153 million) for damages caused to all the surrounding communities throughout the years. "The effects of the contamination of the effluents of solid residual has been happening some decades," said Ismael. Via email, Norsk Hydro confirmed the existence of the process, but added that the company does "not comment on ongoing lawsuits."

Norsk Hydro Alunorte in Barcarena is the world's largest aluminium refinery and was bought by the Norwegian company from Brazilian Vale in 2011. Alunorte has a nameplate capacity of an annual 6.3 million tonnes, according to Norsk Hydro's website.

Credit for Drone Footage: Pedrosa Neto

C/U Graphic showing Barcarena location of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery's bauxite residue disposal DRS1

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery's bauxite residue disposal DRS1

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery's bauxite residue disposal DRS1 *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery's bauxite residue disposal DRS1

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery's bauxite residue disposal DRS1

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery's bauxite residue disposal DRS1

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance

M/S Protesters chanting in front of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance: "Don't let them kill us"

C/U Protesters chanting in front of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance: "Don't let them kill us"

W/S Protesters chanting in front of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance: "Don't let them kill us"

SOT, Antonio Gomes Pereira, Bom Futuro community representative from the Association for Caboclos, Indigenous and Quilombolas of the Amazon (Cainquiama) (Portuguese): "Barcarena was Belem's [state's capital] post card. Today it is a post card of the rotteness of what this company brought to us. What we can see is that this company invaded Barcarena and every day it kicks the people out of their natural habitat."

M/S Protester chanting in front of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance: "Don't let them kill us" *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Antonio Gomes Pereira, Bom Futuro community representative from the Association for Caboclos, Indigenous and Quilombolas of the Amazon (Cainquiama) (Portuguese): "Back in the days everyone would swim in the igarapes [small rivers in the Amazon region]. Today, no one dares to swim in the igarapes because of the pollution."

W/S Protesters in front of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance

C/U Barcarena resident Raimundo Amorim de Barros *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Raimundo Amorim de Barros, Barcarena resident (Portuguese): "It [the factory] arrived here just to kill us. It is bringing us only destruction and pollution. We are slowly dying. Everything is polluted. Barcarena is all polluted, the soil, the vegetation, everything, everything."

M/S Barcarena resident *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Raimundo Amorim de Barros, Barcarena resident (Portuguese): "It's diarrhoea, body itching, it's everything. All because of this factory, this Norwegian factory."

C/U Protester in front of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Lidiane Castro da Silva, Barcarena resident and mother of two daughters (Portuguese): "My daughters started to have diarrhoea and body itching and I started to feel the difference in the water. Before [the overflooding of the disposal] there was nothing like this, we drank the water and didn't feel bad. Their [her daughters'] stomachs started to swell."

C/U Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery logo

W/S Police in front of Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery entrance

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte refinery

M/S Women walking on flooded area

M/S Flooded area

SOT, Margarete Regis dos Santos, Barcarena resident (Portuguese): "My son has this itching on his body and me too, I'm also itching. This is damaging us. Not just us, but many people here in Barcarena that are suffering, and we want justice. We are abandoned here. Nobody cares about us here."

C/U Flooded area *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Margarete Regis dos Santos, Barcarena resident (Portuguese): "Our wells and our rivers are all polluted. Our waters are all polluted. If today I want to drink water, we have to buy mineral water. How are we going to drink water that is totally polluted? We are abandoned here. Nobody cares about us. We want justice."

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery in Barcarena *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S street in Barcarena

M/S Resident entering the

M/S Table with bottle

SOT, Maria Salistiana Cardoso, Barcarena Resident (Portuguese): "This water was damaging me too much. Now they are already bringing different water and we are drinking. But we were drinking this one. This one was there when there was flooding. When the flooding stopped, we were drinking water like this. How do you want me to feel? How is my stomach? Mine and [the stomach] of my people here? We feel sick. Each day I feel more sick. There is a pain in my stomach."

M/S Bottles *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Maria Salistiana Cardoso, Barcarena Resident (Portuguese): "All of us are feeling sick. It's diarrhoea. It's diarrhoea that we have. It's a horrible diarrhoea. Here is my brother, my ex-husband, my son, the kids from my son, all of us have this same problem, and the itching. When it starts raining and the water starts coming, we start to feel the itching. When it comes, it seems like a bite, it's unbearable, all over us."

W/S Forest near Barcarena *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Rubens Campos Prestes, Barcarena resident (Portuguese): "As you can see, today, the water is white and it used to be very clear water. People of this region used to survive on fishing and raising animals. Today this is not possible anymore."

M/S River water *CUTAWAY*

M/S Water flowing inside a pipe

W/S River

M/S River

W/S River

M/S Truck unloading water

W/S Community of Vila de Itupanema, in Barcarena *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina refinery's bauxite residue disposal DRS1 *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Woman walking on flooded area

SOT, Eliziane Araujo dos Santos, Barcarena resident (Portuguese): "The rain doesn't create this water that looks like black and purple, and that emanates a bit of gas. There is a gas coming out of it. It's a gas that itches the throat, but I didn't know before that it was coming from this water."

W/S Flooded area

W/S Evandro Chagas Institute building, in Belem, Para state, Brazil

M/S Evandro Chagas Institute, in Belem, Para state, Brazil

M/S Researcher walking into the lab

SOT, Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI) researcher (Portuguese): "The Brazilian law is very clear. There can be a maximum level of 0.1 ppm [parts per million] of aluminum on the water surface. We found on the water surface of the [local river] Igarape Murucupi and near the communities, levels of 2.6 ppm to 3.6 ppm, meaning that those levels are 25 times to 30 times more than what is allowed by Brazilian law."

M/S Lab researcher

C/U Lab material

SOT, Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI) researcher (Portuguese): "It's a big industry, that produced a lot of red mud with industrial residuals in the last years. Today there are big reservatories of residual material. And this residual material overflooded and ended up in the environment. We also found an exceptional situation, where we found pipes flowing into the environment."

C/U Lab material *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI) researcher (Portuguese): "The local people dig in wells on the margins of the igarapes [rivers]. When there is flooding like the one that was observed, that brings contaminated material and it's natural that the contaminated material will contaminate the waters of these igarapes [rivers] and wells."

C/U Lab material

C/U Lab material

SOT, Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI) researcher (Portuguese): "There is a risk, because the person is drinking water that is contaminated with an amount of aluminum much higher than what is permitted. This can generate many health problems and can cause problems in the short term and in the long term if the population continue to drink the water that could de contaminated."

C/U Lab material *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI) researcher (Portuguese): "It's not only aluminium. We found other elements that, although the levels weren't above the legal limit, there are elements, like lead, for example, that increased in the water. When you continue drinking water with a certain level of lead, you can have many diseases in the long term."

M/S Researcher *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Marcelo de Oliveira Lima, Evandro Chagas Institute (ECI) researcher (Portuguese): "There was an impact? Yes. There was a risk to the health of the population? Yes."

M/S Researcher

M/S Ismael Moraes law firm

M/S Lawyer entering a room

SOT, Ismael Moraes, lawyer of the Association for Caboclos, Indigenous and Quilombolas of the Amazon (Cainquiama), that represents communities of Barcarena (Portuguese): "The effects of the contamination of the effluents of solid residual have been happening for some decades."

M/S Bookshelf *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ismael Moraes, lawyer of the Association for Caboclos, Indigenous and Quilombolas of the Amazon (Cainquiama), that represents communities of Barcarena (Portuguese): "They alleviated the pressure of the reservoirs in case of rain, but it was not rain water, it was chemical residual. That was drained from the bottom of the reservoir, so it was not only rain water. When the rain water put pressure on top of the reservoir, it [the company] drained it from the bottom."

M/S Ismael Moraes' hands *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ismael Moraes, lawyer of the Association for Caboclos, Indigenous and Quilombolas of the Amazon (Cainquiama), that represents communities of Barcarena (Portuguese): "These kinds of activities from the company, that are completely irregular activities and can be considered very serious crimes, have happened for many years and it's getting worse."

M/S Certificate of Ismael Moraes

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