It is possible that a large portion of the hay grown near the Fjarðarál aluminium smelter in Reyðarfjörður will be destroyed as poisonous, due to high levels of fluoride released from the smelter.
Fluoride is an established emission that arises from aluminium smelters, although individual smelters have varying levels of limiting and evaluating how much fluoride is released. The Alcoa plant in Reyðarfjörður, for example, conducts yearly measurements of emissions in the surrounding area. RÚV reports that their latest findings could spell trouble for farmers in the area.
According to the new readings, despite Alcoa’s efforts to keep fluoride emissions under the acceptable limit, a great deal of fluoride was released into the surrounding area last summer. The area at this time of year is plentiful with hay being grown for local farm animals. Fluoride, beyond certain concentrations, can prove toxic to humans and animals alike.
In fact, levels of fluoride that exceed the safe limit have been found in hay grown northwest of the plant, potentially affecting at least three farms in the area; Kollaleira, Áreyjar and Slétta.
Many Icelanders are already familiar with the damage high levels of fluoride can do – it is also a by-product of some volcanic eruptions, found particularly in the ash. Animals who eat ash-tainted grass can become poisoned, and experience deformities of the teeth and bones.
Geir S. Hlöðversson, the managing director of environmental matters at Alcoa, told reporters that the company takes the matter very seriously. It is believed that malfunctioning machinery is the cause for the high levels of emissions last summer, but the error was not noticed until the damage had already been done. However, he said, the company will spare no expense to respond appropriately, and tests will be conducted on the hay at once to determine whether or not it needs to be destroyed.