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by Archives February 14, 2007

The saddest thing about aluminum smelters is that the death toll will go unnoticed. Forests, flora and fauna, rivers and oceans, and humans will die because of poisonous gasses released by aluminum smelters. Their death will be slow, silent and largely unnoticed, though not by those who suffer. The dying can expect to have reduced breathing capacity, muscle spasms, uncontrollable bodily functions, and a host of other macabre smelter-related diseases.

There will be those from the medical establishment who will deny that humans are dying because of the smelters, and smelter companies will produce its own funded studies to erroneously ‘prove’ smelters don’t kill. Environmental groups and lawyers will launch legal action on behalf of the dead and dying. While those actions are tied up in court, companies will continue to dance around death and profit.

This has been the history of aluminum smelters in Canada since the first opened in the 1960s.

For this reason and others I share my country’s experience with Trinidad and Tobago, a little island with a population of 1.3 million calling itself the true Caribbean. What does a smelter in Canada have to do with a smelter in Trinidad? It seems that in the three weeks I was in Trinidad, the government there had been skating over the issue of launching not one, but three aluminum smelters. The extent of the impact a smelter, or any other large-scale plant near the equator, would have on local environments, both natural and human is still unknown. But far up north across the Canadian Arctic, the negative impacts from living near smelters is well known.

Canada has initiated environmental protection policies since the 1960s. But following the damming of many of our northern rivers and the year the first smelter went up, we have seen 43 smelters often silently and without public consultation pop up across Canada’s landscape.

It proved beneficial to city-dwellers and certainly to the financial success of the company.

But it proved disastrous to the local native Cree and Inuit population. After just three years, mercury poison started showing up in food staples like moose, caribou and fish, which have for centuries been a critical link to the survival of Canada’s native populations. In just 40 years, the lifespan of a male Cree hunter fell from 79 to 73, a relatively small decline but on a large scale, the average life span of a Cree male could decline to 66 by the year 2025, if the environment isn’t cleaned up.

That’s because aluminum smelters have a way of coming full circle.

SMELTERS

cont’d next week. . .

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