Noranda's Alumysa Aluminum Smelter Threatens Chilean Environment

Peter Hartmann, a Chilean environmentalist and opponent of a planned new aluminum smelter in Patagonia, will be visiting Canada in late February.

"Noranda has tried to seduce us with the promise of jobs and other economic benefits," says Mr. Hartmann, Assistant Director of the National Committee for the Defence of Fauna and Flora, Aisen (CODEFF), "but it is clear from their initial environmental assessment that the overall disadvantages of this project far outweigh its benefits. This project will dam our rivers and damn our livelihoods."

The proposed smelter will produce approximately 440,000 tonnes of aluminum ingots a year. But it will pump more than 1.5 million tonnes of gaseous and solid waste into the atmosphere as a result, and require three hydroelectric plants and six new dams to power the energy draining project. Besides the immediate environmental impact, the Salmon and Trout Producers Association and local fishermen have also voiced their concerns about the plant's impact on the fishing industry. Patagonia is also a popular tourist destination, and Noranda's plans are also putting the future of this industry at stake.

"It would be wrong to categorize this as another 'environmental' struggle," says Alejandro Navarro, President of the Commission on the Environment and Natural Resources, who is accompanying Mr. Hartmann on the trip. "A much broader constituency is opposed to this project."

"Noranda tries to present itself as a good corporate citizen," adds Mel Quevillon, Coordinator of the Canadian Program at MiningWatch Canada. "However, recent actions by the company paint a much bleaker profile. Increasingly, the company is ignoring the interests of its employees and the people of the communities in which it operates."

In 1997, then-President of Noranda, Courtney Pratt, made a highly influential speech at the Canadian Club, about the active role that businesses needed to take in shaping society, to "do well by doing good". At the time, he encouraged businesses to focus on three areas: employee development and the creation of "family-friendly" workplaces, the environment, and the community. Noranda's actions, however, have done little to promote that vision.

"All the company has left here is pollution and unemployment," says Roch Lanthier, of the Collectif de Lutte aux Organochlores (CLO) in Danville, Québec. "Clearly, Noranda is back to putting profits ahead of people." Five weeks ago, Noranda announced the closure of its two-year-old magnesium plant in Danville with the loss of 380 jobs, blaming low-cost magnesium exports from China. The plant, which spews out 30 to 50 times more dioxins and furans than had been projected by Noranda, has also been operating against the recommendations of Québec's Public Office of Environmental Hearings (BAPE).

Meanwhile, in Rouyn-Noranda, 510 unionised production and maintenance workers at the Horne smelter have been on strike since June 2002 over the terms of their collective agreement. At stake are better wages, job security and environmental conditions. The Horne smelter is emitting 60 tons/year of arsenic into the atmosphere rather than the 25 tons/year promised by Noranda.

"If our Chilean partners are to learn anything from this solidarity tour, it is that be it in Canada or Chile, Noranda can no longer be trusted to follow through on their promises," said Fraser Reilly-King, Coordinator of the non-governmental organisations' Working Group on Export Development Canada.

The NGO Working Group on the EDC (a working group of the Halifax Initiative), along with MiningWatch Canada and the Steelworkers Humanity Fund are sponsoring Hartmann and Navarro's tour of Ontario and Québec.