MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian NGOs press red button on alumina sludge

Published by MAC on 2010-10-18
Source: The Hindu

NGOs press red button on alumina sludge

By Ramesh Susarla

The Hindu

9 October 2010

‘Setting up of refinery and smelters at Makavarapalem is dangerous'

VISAKHAPATNAM: Alumina plant sludge disaster in Hungary has led to environmentalists and NGOs ringing alarm bells in Andhra Pradesh too with at least a couple of alumina refinery and smelter units proposed in and around Visakhapatnam.

Hundreds were evacuated and five died in the aftermath of the disaster on Monday, when a gigantic sludge reservoir burst its banks at an alumina plant in Ajka, a town 160 km from the Hungarian capital Budapest.

The torrent of sludge inundated homes, swept cars off roads and damaged bridges and the authorities were fighting against time to save River Danube from getting polluted by the toxic material.

Mine Minerals and People Chairperson Ravi Rebbapragada sounding very disturbed at the turn of events in Europe told The Hindu that they were opposing the setting up of refinery and smelters at Makavarapalem by Anrak Aluminium Ltd., and Jindal Aluminium Ltd. at Boddavara near S. Kota for fear of such dangers.

The alumina industry in Hungary was 60 years old, but in India our record has not been that good and mining overburden from bauxite was yet another danger, he said.

"The aluminium industry one of the most matured and evolved one in Hungary could not properly handle such a catastrophe and in Visakhapatnam district when the proposed plants are set up they would produce red mud (alumina sludge) and also white ash ponds," he observed.

Referring to the 1999/2000 disaster in Nalco's smelter at Anugul in Orissa where the ash pond got breached and entire Bhrahmani river got polluted and thousands of farmers were left with their fields silted with white ash.

Danger to rivers

Several people were victims of the chemicals from the pond were still suffering, Mr. Ravi pointed out.

Original bunds of red mud ponds are built at a height of 20 meters and when it gets filled its height is increased and the interface of these two bunds was the weakest point that leads to breaches.

In Visakhapatnam River Gosthani and Thatipudi Reservoir would be the worst affected from the mining overburden (leftover from mining) and Red Mud from Jindal, while Yeleru Reservoir and canal bring drinking water to Visakhapatnam city along with irrigation water would be adversely affected, said HRF president V.S. Krishna. The water security would be undermined, while destroying the ecology when bauxite mining or refining is taken up, he added.

A recent documentary prepared by Visakhapatnam-based environmentalist J.V. Ratnam depicts all these possibilities and the Bhrahmani incident.

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