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MEI Online: Environmental Issues: Latest News: September 5th 2002


:: Alcoa Refinery Emissions Cause Health Fears  
By Peter Gonnella

While its Alumar alumina refinery and primary smelting facility in Brazil was one of 10 operations being lauded at the World Summit in Johannesburg as a leader in fostering sustainable development in developing countries, the world's second largest resources company by market cap, US-based Alcoa Inc, is developing a nasty rash in Australia that won't go away. It was revealed at the weekend that the global giant's Kwinana alumina refinery near Perth in Western Australia was now the subject of serious health issues after its Wagerup refinery, also in WA, got hauled over the coals for similar concerns last year.

Though not proven to be the result of working at the refinery, about 20 Alcoa refinery workers have died over the past four years, while a further 25 or so have been diagnosed with cancer, as well as coronary, respiratory and chemical sensitivity problems. According to reports, all of these people (employees and contractors) worked in processing areas of concern, which included an oxalate kiln and liquor burner facility. These processes are believed to give off potentially toxic and carcinogenic chemical fumes.

An Alcoa-commissioned study still in progress determined there was an above average incidence of respiratory cancer, melanoma and mesothelioma, though the university experts carrying out the study suggested the number of deaths seen in Alcoa's total workforce in the country was not unusual compared with other industries in Australia.

Last year during a parliamentary inquiry into another of its WA refineries, Wagerup, an Alcoa document was submitted that indicated health-threatening compounds were detected in liquor burning emissions from the Kwinana plant during company trials in 1990.

The Wagerup liquor burning unit was commissioned in 1996, but two years later Alcoa shut it down to install pollution-reduction equipment, while the Kwinana liquor burner had the same done to it recently.



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