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Hydro's alumina refinery in Brazil is sued for overflow in 2009

An overflow in 2009 at Alunorte's alumina refinery, where Hydro is a majority shareholder, resulted in a series of new actions in a small shares court in Barcarena (PA). Red mud water, residue from the bauxite refining process, overflowed from the drainage channels around a deposit two years before Hydro acquired a majority stake in the world's largest alumina refinery.

The shares, totaling approximately 6,000, were filed with the Special Civil Court in Barcarena, state of Pará, but Alunorte, a company in which Hydro increased its share of participation from 34 to 91 percent in 2011, has not yet been formally notified. Hydro is still unaware of the details of the new cases. The company's legal counsel is aware that the actions were filed with the Barcarena Court.

"In an unofficial way, the court informed us that, due to the recess period, it may still take several weeks before we are notified in all actions", says the person in charge of Bauxita & amp; Alumina, Executive Vice President Johnny Undeli.

"We are taking these actions seriously, however, we find it difficult for the authors of these actions to have any success in their complaints, if related to the 2009 incident," says Undeli.

Unusual heavy rain

The overflow of the Alunorte red mud deposit occurred during a heavy and prolonged rain in April 2009. In the most intense rain period, precipitation was 105 mm over the course of an hour and a half. This intense precipitation caused the red mud water in the deposit to be taken to the Murucupi River. In 2010, Alunorte was fined approximately R $ 20 million, but appealed.

Alunorte and other institutions repeatedly tested the water quality of the Murucupi River, as well as the Pará River, which is much more extensive, and the tests show that the overflow had no relevant impact on water and river life in general.

15 lawsuits

In all, 15 individuals, of an opinion opposed to Alunorte, filed a lawsuit against the refinery, among other things because the fish would have disappeared from the river and the crops in the areas close to the river would have deteriorated after the overflow. However, it has not been proven that the incident caused such problems.

Alunorte lost the first two causes, but won the remaining thirteen in the first instance. The trials have not yet been concluded and it is not known when this will happen.

Strengthening the deposit

After what happened in 2009, Alunorte reinforced the deposit and the water channels in the deposit, as a means of prevention. The drainage channels were raised and covered with the same impermeable membrane that lines the basins, to avoid infiltration into the soil. After Hydro took over as the majority shareholder, the company decided to drill 10 groundwater monitoring wells around the industrial plant. Such work is already in progress and should be completed in August. Before, there were wells surrounding only the red mud deposit.

In addition to the natural occurrence of substances such as silicon, iron, calcium, titanium and sodium, the red mud contains an average of 12 grams per liter of caustic soda, which is part of the process of refining bauxite into alumina. Most of this caustic soda is recycled and reused in the refinement process.

All drainage and rainwater from the red mud deposit are collected and sent to a processing plant, where they are purified and neutralized, before being sent to the Pará River. The pH (degree of alkalinity) and quality of water are tested and adjusted continuously - 24 hours a day. In addition, extensive water quality measurements are made at a number of points on the river and the results of these measurements are reported to the authorities in Barcarena.

Minor requirement

The level of requirement to file lawsuits in Brazil appears to be less than in Norway and other European countries and it is generally considered common for large Brazilian companies to have several hundred cases in progress in the courts.

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"These numbers can give a certain perspective to our situation. However, we want to manage our business in order to avoid the wear and tear that these types of cases bring to our neighbors, the local community and ourselves. We work on the continuous improvement of our operations, including environmental issues, which is why we take this situation seriously. Furthermore, we want to strengthen the dialogue between our units and the local community, for example, demonstrating greater transparency than is common in Brazil, "says Undeli. & nbsp ;

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This text is machine translated. To view the original Portuguese text, click on PT on the top right of this window

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