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Raffique Shah


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Manning, Alcoa must come clean

November 12, 2006
By Raffique Shah

I think Alcoa spokesman Wade Hughes is "damn farse and outa place" (let him go learn our dialect) to suggest that Trinidad is "ideally positioned to become the aluminium hub of the Caribbean". But Hughes got his license to make such insulting pronouncements from none other than Prime Minister Patrick Manning. When the PM referred to his fellow citizens, distinguished and ordinary, as being "dotish", what could we expect from a "preferred" alien? Hughes and Alcoa, thanks to the "dotish" stance adopted by Manning and company on constructing aluminium smelters here, have been given "rank" over all of us natives. It was always this way as governments genuflected to multinational corporations, making them overlords of our nature-given resources.

To get to the meat of the matter, the concerns we have about establishing smelters here demand clear and honest answers. Firstly do we need such plants for additional revenue?

I addressed this in my previous column, suggesting that we do not, except that when both government and citizens want to wallow in wasteful consumerism, there can never be enough money. Greed drives us to seek not what we need, but what we want. Second by, what is the impact the Alcoa plant will have on the surrounding environment, more so on the aquifer that lies underground the site chosen? Manning said water in that area is not fit for human consumption. I suggest that several independent tests be conducted to determine the truth of this matter.

I emphasise proper determination of the quality of water held in this aquifer in light of the UN Human Development Report, due to have been released yesterday.

This report focuses heavily on the importance of water to the world, and the grave dangers that lie ahead as nations go to war over fresh water.

It will indicate (according to The Guardian, UK) that one billion people live without clean water and 2.6 billion lack access to sanitation. If, therefore, the Cap-de-Ville aquifer has water that can help alleviate our own water woes, then no way should we consider putting any industry there. This country needs to trap, conserve and utilise the abundance of fresh water we are blessed with.

The third, maybe most important concern that must be addressed, is pollution. There is an overabundance of evidence that these pollutants are detrimental to the health of human beings and animals in many ways. In Quebec, where there are aluminium plants, there are more human deaths from malignant tumours according to a study.

Dr Michael Weiner, a New York oncology specialist, points to "aluminium overload associated with a wide range of diseases, from anaemia to liver and cardio-toxicity and bladder cancer." But I need to focus a bit on spent pot lining (SPL) that seems to be almost as dangerous as nuclear waste (which takes 1,000 years to become sterile!).

Mr Manning said, in his address at La Brea, that "waste matter would be sent to Arkansas". Really, Mr Manning? There is every indicator that over the past two decades, smelters have shifted from the North to the global South. The main reason for that is the North is finally waking up to the ill-effects of such plants. So why would they now accept the most dangerous of aluminium wastes, SPL? Is Arkansas the Ivory Coast?

It gets fishier than that, though. Since 1992, an Australian research team funded by several aluminium companies, Alcoa included, claimed to have developed technology to "turn this intractable problem into economically useful products."

With some 500,000 tonnes of SPL being stored across the globe, scientists behind the project claimed that it could extract toxic fluoride from the smelter and save it for re-use, thus saving much money and solving an environmental problem. They claimed, too, that the remaining SPL could be reduced to "synthetic sand" and be used for road-making and concrete production. The core "SIROSMELT" technology, according to its creators, "extracts fluoride and destroys cyanide".

Why has Alcoa not adopted this mode of dealing with SPL? Why, if Manning is to be believed, are they shipping this "toxic bomb" to Arkansas, of all places? Something does not quite register right here. Clearly, both Mr Manning and Alcoa need to come clean-in more ways than one-with the people of this country. We are not fools, sirs. And I am not against industrialisation per se.

What I am against is multinational corporations or local industrialists playing "farse and loose" with the health of the population and the environment of this country, to the detriment of the current and future generations.

Part I | Part III