Fluoride Action Network

Salmon producers, doctors, environmentalists, criticize Noranda’s proposed Aluminum plant in Chile

Source: Santiago Times | January 8th, 2002
Location: Chile
Industry type: Aluminum Industry

The Association of Salmon and Trout Producers said they reject the Region XI Alumysa project because of a number of problems detected in the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) carried out by Environmental Management Consulting for the salmon farmers.

Victor Hugo Puchi, president of the association, said the project could devastate the salmon sector in southern Chile and could potentially eliminate all salmon farming. For this reason he said the two activities cannot be carried out in conjunction with one another.

The salmon farmers are concerned about a number of factors related to the project, which calls for the construction of an aluminum processing plant in southern Chile. They said increased levels of fluoride surrounding the plant could be fatal for the salmon population.

The farmers also questioned how the plant will dispose of solid and liquid waste. They worry that increased boat traffic in the Chacabuco Port could disrupt salmon farms.

The Alumysa project, which is proposed by the Canadian firm Noranda, calls for an investment of US $ 2.75 billion and would be carried out over a period of five years generating nearly 9,000 new jobs in the construction and operation of the plant.

The project includes the construction of an aluminum processing plant and two hydro-electric installations, which will give the plant a yearly production capacity of 440,000 tons.

The project’s general manager, Robert Biehl, said the salmon industry’s pressure was “unacceptable.” He said it was unfair to ask authorities to choose between the two industries. Biehl said the salmon farmers are only concerned about the aluminum processing plant because they realize its construction will increase the presence of environmental regulations. He said the salmon industry violates many environmental norms and does not want increased regulation.


Santiago Times

January 8, 2002


The Medical Association of Chile released a report on the effects of the controversial Alumysa aluminum plant project to be built in southern Region XI Aysen. The study, which delivered a negative assessment on Alumysa, was undertaken at the behest of the Health Ministry’s regional secretariat.

Andrei Tchernitchin, president of the Health and Environment Committee of the Medical Association, led the inquiry based on the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) delivered to the authorities by the Canadian company Noranda, responsible for the initiative. According to Tchernitchin, “it’s incredible that a mineral that’s produced in other countries is processed in Chile. Why isn’t this done where the mineral is produced? This means that the polluting residues that aluminum and its processing has will remain here while the cleaned metal will be taken somewhere else. This is the same as importing toxic waste in a disguised manner by creating jobs … They will use southern Chile’s water, some of the purest in the world and which could be the source for much wealth and destroy it to benefit the company,” the expert said.

The Alumysa plant will have a capacity of approximately 440,000 tons of aluminum per year and demand an investment of nearly US $ 2.7 billion. The project includes the construction of three hydroelectric plants. Noranda filed in August an EIA for the project before the National Environmental Commission (Conama.)

Fluor, aluminum, and petcoke are some of the polluting elements which according to the report are part of the project and involve a health cost which no one will be able to assume.

“This is a health risk any way you cut it,” Tchernitchin said, claiming Noranda’s initiatives to mitigate the project’s effects weren’t enough.

Among the effects that the report forecasts, figure the increase in sulfates and sulfuric anhydrates (SO2,) which provokes acid rain and its consequent damage to agriculture and vegetation.

The report also warns about the method for reducing aluminum, especially when recycling cathodes, which may liberate potentially carcinogenic elements.

Tchernitchin stated that these effects wouldn’t only affect the community but also the flora and fauna of the region.

“Studies on aluminum reducing plants in Norway state that the third part of Alumysa’s fluoride gas estimated emissions already damage the vegetation,” the expert added.

Noranda still has to secure the participation of one or more investment partners and, finally, the company’s board of directors will need to approve a revised feasibility study that incorporates the latest economic and operational data.


Santiago Times

November 23, 2001


Southern Region XI’s Regional Environment Commission (Corema) has received more than 400 criticisms of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) carried out for the Alumysa project, which is proposed by the Canadian company Noranda.

Organizations have been granted a period through Thursday to issue criticism about the study. Among the organizations that offered a critique are NGOs such as the Terram Foundation and the Citizen’s Committee for the Defense of Aysen Life Reserve (Codeff.) President of the latter organization Patricio Ramos said ‘we consider Alumysa will have noxious effects for human health, wildlife, the Aysen fiord, the native forest and an appalling amount of substance emissions such as fluoride, aluminum, and sulfuric anhydride.

The organizations have denounced the eventual damage that constructing three hydroelectric plants would cause on the region’s rivers. Experts estimate that the hydroelectric plant could cause the Cuervo, Lago Condor, and Blanco rivers to flood, which implies flooding more than 11,640 hectares of land.

Another organization that has opposed the project is the Salmon and Trout Producers Association, which stated that the initiative would pollute the Aysen fiord and damage the industry’s image in the international market.

At the behest of Corema, the Catholic University evaluated Alumysa’s EIA, stating that it ‘should establish whether the emissions (of carbon dioxide) contradict Chile’s position in the Kyoto agreement’ and that the EIA should have alluded to the eventual ‘impact of the atmospheric emissions on the acid rain and its effects on the soil, the superficial and marine waters, the people, and the constructions.’

The Alumysa project, according to preliminary estimates, involves a US $ 2.7 billion investment for the construction of an aluminum reducing plant, which would produce an average of 440,000 tons of the metal per year. It would also build three hydroelectric plants to support its operation.


Santiago Times

October 22, 2001


The National Commission on the Environment (Conama) and the Catholic University (UC) carried out an analysis of the Environmental Impact Assessment presented by the Canadian company, Noranda, for its Alumysa project in Region XI.

The university’s pre-evaluation of the EIA detected a series of problems. First the EIA does not consider the risk of the Hanta virus, which workers may be exposed to. It also does not address the problem of excessive fluoride exposure for the region’s population.

The UC experts said it is irresponsible that the company has not recognized the obvious impact the project will have on the region’s air quality. The plant will increase air pollution because of emissions such as nitro-oxide and carbon monoxide that occur when fossil fuels are burned. The pre-evaluation also revealed the presence of pollutants such as aluminum, calcium coke and aluminum fluoride.

Noranda representatives said the EIA reveals a series of environmental impacts that the construction and the operation of the plant may cause. Included in this list are temperature change, increased noise and vibration levels and changes to the local landscape. The plant’s construction and operation will prompt the loss of 9,600 hectares of soil, vegetation and forest. Additionally, changes and reduction in the flow of local rivers and alterations in aquatic flora and fauna habitats are expected.

The Alumysa plant is the largest foreign investment project being considered in Chile and calls for the construction and operation of the aluminum processing plant, three hydro-electric centers, and loading docks in Chacabuco, Lago Condor, Rio Blanco and Rio Cuervo. The project requires an investment of US $ 2.75 billion.


Inter Press Service

October 4, 2001


By Gustavo Gonzlez

SANTIAGO, Oct. 4 – An unusually broad alliance of local environmental groups is fighting to block the construction of an aluminum plant in southern Chile, which would be the biggest single investment ever in this Southern Cone country.

The Alliance for the Aysen Life Reserve is attempting to mobilize the public to keep environmental authorities from approving the Alumysa project, under which the Canadian mining company Noranda Inc would build a major aluminum smelter in the southern region of Aysen, a pristine area located 1,500 kms south of Santiago.

“The Alumysa project is a tyrannosaurus in paradise,” said Peter Hartmann, the local director of the National Committee for the Defence of Fauna and Flora (CODEFF), Chile’s oldest environmental organization.

Noranda, one of the world’s largest producers of zinc and nickel, plans to invest $ 2.75 billion in the project, which would make it the biggest one-time foreign investment ever made in Chile. The Aysen region is one of the country’s least populated areas. Its glaciers, mountains, rocky islands, native growth forests, unique fauna, and lakes and rivers represent great natural wealth which local residents are working hard to protect by declaring it a “life reserve.”

It is also a very fragile region, “due to its recent and complex geo-biological, cultural, demographic and socioeconomic formation,” according to a CODEFF report. Aysen was not colonized until the early 20th century.

The Alumysa (Aluminio de Aysen SA) plant, which is to be built in the town of Puerto Chacabuco, will also require the construction of three hydroelectric plants on the Cuervo, Condor and Blanco rivers, which are still unpolluted.

To that would be added 80 kms of high-tension power lines, nearly 100 kms of roads to allow access to heavy vehicles, a port able to service ships up to 45,000 tons, and a floating pier.

The new plant would take advantage of the region’s abundant water resources to produce aluminum from alumina imported from Australia, Brazil and Jamaica.

Noranda has a “terrible reputation and environmental record” in North America, according to the local environmental alliance.

The Alumysa project is the product of a joint venture between the Toronto-based company and Proyectos de Aysen, a Chilean firm that has been buying up public land in the area since the 1980s, and whose chief associates and executives have ties to the co- governing Christian Democracy Party, Hartmann pointed out.

Noranda presented its environmental impact study for the project to Chilean authorities on Aug. 31. An abridged version was published on Sept. 7, after which the public had 60 days to express its views regarding the project.

The Alliance for the Aysen Life Reserve was set up to take part in the public hearings and consultation process, to express its opposition to the project.

Rarely has such a broad environmental coalition been created in Chile. The Alliance links groups like CODEFF, the Institute of Political Ecology, the National Network for Ecological Action, the Sustainable Chile Program, the Terram Foundation, Geo Austral, Defenders of the Forest and Ecocenos.

The “green caucus” made up of environmentally-concerned senators and parliamentary deputies from the governing center-left coalition, as well as the right-wing opposition, has also joined the Alliance.

Among the prominent Chilean environmental activists participating in the alliance are Juan Pablo Orrego, with the Biobio Action Group, economist Marcel Claude, and lawyer Fernando Dougnac.

Hartmann said the aim was to get organizations of fishermen, tour operators, and farmers and ranchers from the Aysen region involved in the movement. According to the director of CODEFF, all of those sectors will be hurt if the Alumysa plant is built.

“In environmental terms, the damage that would be caused by the project is enormous,” said Hartmann. “In the first place, because three pristine rivers would be dammed, with a 116 meter- tall dam built across one of them, which would practically dry up the river.

“The natural habitat of the local fauna, including fish, would also be affected. We have 12 vulnerable species here, three rare species, three species about which very little is known, and five endangered species,” said the activist.

A study by the local environmental groups estimates that the dams would flood 9,598 hectares of land, damaging the habitat of a number of animal species and leading to the loss of grasslands, forests and farmland.

In the Blanco River and Caro Lake areas, the dams would jeopardize the existence of two particularly valuable endangered species: the huemul, a native species of deer pictured on Chile’s coat of arms, and the colo colo cat, one of Chile’s few wild cats.

The smelter would produce 440,000 tons of aluminum ingots a year, requiring the importation of 846,000 tons of alumina, 146,000 tons of calcinated coal coke, and 43,500 tons of tar, as well as aluminum fluoride, diesel fuel and liquified natural gas.

The plant would generate at least 600,000 tons of waste a year, jeopardizing rivers and lakes as well as nearby coastal areas, and threatening the tourism and salmon farming industries, warned Hartmann.


Greenwire (Environment and Energy Publishing, LLC)

April 10, 1992


Citing environmental damage and the threat to their industry, salmon farmers are objecting to the construction of two aluminum smelters in Aysen and plans for a third further south in Punta Arens. “All three billion-dollar-plus proposals are enticed by the abundant rainfall of southern Chile, … (which has led) some experts to suggest that hydro-power can be generated at the phenomenally low cost of 1 – 1.5 cents/kw-hr.”

But the “salmon farmer’s cooperative of Aysen, COSA, cites data gathered from other aluminum smelters as evidence that the two industries cannot coexist. They say that tests done on salmon near an aluminum plant on the Columbia River in Canada in the early 1980s provided evidence that fluoride, the main contaminant in the aluminum refining process, interferes with the growth and survival of salmon.”

COSA says that spillage of alumina from a smelting facility in Argentina has resulted in extreme environmental damage, and argues there are other “pollution pitfalls” inherent in the project. Officials at the Punta Arens project say maximum safeguards will be used to minimize any possible damage to the environment (Chile Information Project, 4/8).