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Aluminum Smelters in Iceland

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Aluminum Smelters in Iceland

Alcoa Fjarðaál aluminum smelting plant
The Alcoa smelter in Reyðarfjörður. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Q: Where are the aluminum factories in Iceland located? Do Icelanders act to prevent environmental pollution? If so, what has been done to prevent pollution from the smelters?

Alexander, Italy.

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A: There are three aluminum smelters in Iceland, in Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland, owned by Alcoa, on Grundartangi near Akranes, West Iceland, owned by Norðurál Century Aluminum and in Straumsvík near Hafnarfjörður, Southwest Iceland, owned by Rio Tinto Alcan Iceland.

The levels of fluoride in grass in areas around the Alcoa smelter in Reyðarfjörður proved to be just below the guideline limit in the Environment Agency of Iceland’s third round of testing last summer. Previously levels had been found to be above the guideline limit on average in the eight locations tested, two of which were in the town of Reyðarfjörður, as reported by RÚV in July.

However, decrease in pollution was attributed to rainfall in the days preceding the testing, whereas there hadn’t been any precipitation in the area prior to the first two rounds. The level of wind may also have had an impact.

Levels of pollution in the industrial area east of the Reykjanesbraut highway at Straumsvík, were found to be equal to that in highly polluted areas in Eastern Europe, according to research by Sigurður H. Magnússon at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History for the aluminum smelters in Straumsvík, Reyðarfjörður and Grundartangi.

Heavy metals and sulfur have been measured in the moss around the Straumsvík smelter every five years since 1990. According to Sigurður, there are few places where you can find such high levels of pollution, only in a few Eastern European countries.

In October, Al Jazeera reported on possible fluoride poisoning from aluminum smelters, including Grundartangi, in Iceland. The article can be read here.

According to Alcoa’s website, “state-of-the-art cleansing equipment in the smelter neutralizes more than 99.5 percent of fluorides from the emissions which are re-used in the aluminum production. No wastewater from the smelter’s production process is released into the sea and the aim is set for no waste disposal to landfills. The company also oversees extensive monitoring on various environmental factors in the vicinity of the smelter.” The smelter is ISO 14001 certified.

Read more about Alcoa’s efforts towards the environment here.

Norðurál also provides information on its policy here. The smelter is also ISO 14001 certified.

According to Alcan’s website, the company was the first in Iceland to receive accreditation for its environmental management system and complies with the requirements of the ISO 14001 international environmental standard. Alcan uses measures to aim to prevent fluorine gas and dust from entering the atmosphere.

Alcan says it has used “systematic efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels, with a move toward electricity instead.” Alcan also claims that its plant in Iceland is “unsurpassed anywhere in the world when it comes to reducing anode effects.” Alcan also claims to have cleaned fluoride from the pot fumes in the dry adsorption plants and can today boast over 99 percent removal.

Read more about Alcan’s efforts in the field of environmental protection here.

There have been protests against aluminum smelters in Iceland over the years. Saving Iceland is among those who have been active in protesting the presence and expansion of aluminum smelters in Iceland. You can read more about their actions here.

ZR