By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s Environment Ministry (MMA) announced on Monday that it has asked Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) to take all legal measures necessary to stop damages being caused by the seepage of toxic water from Norwegian company Hydro Alunorte into the water supply of the municipality of Barcarena, in the Northern Brazilian state of Para.
“The population has no access to drinking water and the company will have to explain and respond to the socio-environmental damage in the region,” Environment Minister Sarney Filho told reporters during a press conference on Monday.
Sarney Filho said that the company may be faced with heavy fines and even embargo of its operations if it becomes proven that there were ‘errors in the process of disposal and treatment of waste, as well as the clandestine release of effluents’.
The request by the Ministry comes days after the Evandro Chagas Institute, an entity linked to the Ministry of Health, issued a report which pointed out to the overflowing of several basins in the area due to heavy rains, including those serving the Hydro Alunorte company complex. According to the Institute the overflow contaminated the drinking water with heavy metals.
The company denies any contamination of the water, but on Saturday (February 24th) said it was creating a task force to look into the allegations.
“The alumina production at the refinery has not been impacted, and internal and external inspections have not found proof of overflow and leakage from the bauxite residue deposits at Hydro Alunorte,” said a statement released by the company.
Although the company says that no proof of leakage has been found, the company’s CEO says Alunorte will comply with all requests from local and federal authorities.
“Our commitment to safe and sound operations is universal and absolute. We intend to evaluate all aspects of our operations in Alunorte in an open and transparent manner, in close dialogue with relevant authorities,” says CEO Svein Richard Brandtzæg.
The company currently operates with a provisional environmental license issued by the Pará state government to extract bauxite, the main ore in the manufacturing of alumina. Hydro Alunorte is considered the largest alumina refinery in the world and has been operating in the city of Barcarena since 1995.