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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

10:50
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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

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