Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why we should never believe a mining executive or a mining company

The Australian CEO of Alcoa Australia, one of the world's leading alumina companies, claimed in an interview over the weekend that the alumina industry is much maligned and is not bad for the environment. He described the highly controversial Wagerup refinery in the south west of Western Australia as "a beautiful refinery".

People in Europe and Hungary will beg to differ (as will those people who live in close proximity to Alcoa's alumina plants in Wagerup and Kwinana -WA- and Victoria).

Europe is facing one of its greatest environmental and health catastrophes as a result of toxic sludge that has burst from a Hungarian alumina mine owned by the alumina company MAL.

In Hungary a reservoir of red toxic sludge* (estimated to be over 35 million cubic feet of toxic sludge) burst from a reservoir at an alumina plant killing 7 people, engulfing villages, houses, property and cars and destroying liveliehoods. The reservoir from which the sludge escaped is more than 1000 yards long and 500 yeards wide.

The footage of a 6 foot high wave of red sludge pouring through local villages and engulfing cars, houses and buildings, while villagers fled in terror from the advancing waves of sludge was nightmarish.

The sludge entered and destroyed the Marcal river ecosystem, including fish and marine and plant life in the river. The sludge has now entered the Danube river, Europe's second largest river and threatens to destroy much of that river ecosystem, as well the drinking supplies of millions of Europeans. Latest reports are that all villages near the plant have been evacuated because of the likeliehood of further toxic sludge escaping.

The sludge is highly toxic with high levels of alkaline and heavy metal and is so toxic that people who have contact with the sludge receive serious burns through their clothing.
The company however, denies that the sludge is toxic.
The Hungarian Government has opened a criminal investigation into the catastrophe. The Hungarian company responsible for the mine MAL, is  a major Hungarian alumina producer and was formed as a privatised company as a result of the selling off of what was a state owned alumina producer.

MAL is an example of the form of "red capitalism" created in Eastern Europe when former communist leaders overnight became very rich capitalists when they appropriated state assets cheaply during the privitisation bonanzas that took place after the collapse of communist regimes.

The current catarophe is the worst environmental and ecological disasters in Europe since a similar disaster occured in 2000 at a Romanian gold mine part owned and run by the Western Australia based mining company Esmerelda. That disaster occured when a gold mine tailings dam run by Esmerelda burst, spilling toxic water and waste into the Tisza River, a tributary of the Danube. 

Fish and marine life were killed and the river contaminated. Fisherman working the river saw their liveliehoods destroyed (This aspect of the disaster was the subject of an Australian documentary which looks at the effect of the spill on  fisherman on the river and their attempts to visit Perth and hold the mining company to account).

Esmerelda went into voluntary administration after the Romanian disaster to escape debts and criminal liability, but within a short time reformed as a different mining company. That Perth based company still runs mines in Eastern Europe.

Don't you just love mining companies. Such fine corporate citizens, so concerned about the social and environmental harms they cause, and always so believable!!!!

*Red sludge is the by product of the refining of bauxite into alumina

No comments: