by Archives February 28, 2007

Aluminum smelters have a way of coming full circle.

When aluminum manufacturers began operating in northern Canada, the local boreal forests diminished within the first year to a point of no return. Due to soil erosion, impermeable land turned poisonous without proper irrigation, thus mal-nourishing tree roots with chemicals foreign to local soil. This created large scale flooding and land degradation. The result: 28 per cent tree loss. There are various estimates but on the whole, since the appearance of the first smelter plant in northern Canada, over 39 per cent of the boreal forests have disappeared.

The problem is linked to the emissions that escape through the tall smokestacks familiar to smelters. The primary purpose of a stack is to funnel the pollutants created in the aluminum process upward from the base of the plant to a high point. Gases then cool and are released high enough to be caught by winds, dispersing the gases through the air and avoiding the necessity of dumping the nasty chemicals on local populations.

This method of pollution control works. But it only safeguards local human populations and flora and fauna. Released gases eventually disperse and fall over other populations. This airborne and poisonous concoction has been termed “acid rain” and is slowly killing forests and lakes. And this is where things turn incomprehensible, inexplicable, inexcusable – perhaps even pathological.

From mercury poison in fish, to the processing of local flora and fauna for herbs and spices, chemicals emitted from smelters find their way into our food systems. Cancer rates increase where we find smelters. In particular, lung cancer, cancer of the liver, throat, eyes and colon-cancers, that for the most part had been suppressed, rebound and in many cases appear at a younger age. It is important to note that large-scale smelter companies have paid out “pitiful” amounts of compensation in punitive damages, nor have they done much to alleviate the horrors.

Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Guyana and Columbia then have good cause to worry about smelter companies and other plants. These countries should sit down and discuss the possible regional impact of the proposed smelters.

There is the choice. Do they want smelters plants in Trinidad, or not? Do you want them in Canada, or not? Do we want them anywhere? They leave Godzilla-sized footprints on the planet – everyday.

Alcoa last year had planned to take over operations of ten inoperable plants in north Quebec, and to build three more in northern Ontario. But local activist groups and the recent tightening of environmental laws have forced Alcoa to temporarily withdraw from its plans and look elsewhere? Where? Trinidad and Tobago?

The tragedy of building large scale industrial developments such as smelters, regardless if they are built on an island or miles from any human life, is the failure to accurately see the facts in front us, even when they are based on historic failures. This is evident when local populations are coaxed into believing that a smelter would be good for the economy and everyone will benefit. The only people who benefit are those who don’t have to live near one.

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