Despite fluoride levels in the grass around an aluminium smelter being above the safe limit for three years in a row, residents in the area have been told they are in no danger.
The Real Estate, Planning and Environmental Committee of Fjarðabyggð met with officials from The Environmental Agency of Iceland (UST) and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority on Monday (MAST), Vísir reports, to discuss levels of fluoride that have been found in the grass around the Alcoa Fjarðaál aluminium smelter in Reyðafjörður. The contamination has been ongoing, and fluoride levels in hay growing near the smelter remain higher than is considered normal, but officials do not believe residents in the area are in any danger.
Residents reportedly remain worried, but committee chairperson Eiður Ragnarsson told reporters that a community meeting will soon be called to present findings and assuage worries.
Fluoride emissions from the smelter exceeded safe limits in the summer of 2012, prompting the Alcoa to send warnings to area farmers that hay grown in the region may have been poisoned. Geir S. Hlöðversson, the managing director of environmental matters at Alcoa, told reporters that the unusually high emissions were due to malfunctioning machinery.
However, the UST believes the malfunctions could have been prevented, if required inspections had been conducted.
While crediting the company with its fast response to the fluoride emissions, it nonetheless emphasised that the company is ultimately to blame for skipping necessary checks on its own machinery.
Last January, more information came to light. The fluoride levels discovered were measured at 3,000 microgrammes per gramme of bone ash from three sheep, and 3,900 microgrammes in one in six sheep at the nearby farm Slétta. The “danger mark” for fluoride concentrations is 4,000 to 6,000 microgrammes. Before the smelter began operations, fluoride levels in sheep were usually somewhere around only 800 microgrammes.
Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir of the Environmental Agency expressed concerns about these results, saying, “We are worried about this. We need to pay close attention to this, and continue investigations.”