Dams and Mining

Monday, October 22, 2007

Aluminum is a versatile material familiar to nearly everyone on the planet, and is used in airplanes and automobiles; in kitchen foils and pots and pans; for beverage cans and restaurant takeout trays; in window frames and electrical wiring; and for baseball bats and bicycles. Its many qualities have made it an ever–growing presence in consumer items worldwide.

Aluminum smelting
Aluminum smelting

However, aluminum’s apparent cheap economic cost belies the high environmental costs of its mining and refining: forests destroyed, water contaminated with aluminum wastes, fertile valleys and pristine ecosystems submerged under dams built to power smelters. The human costs of producing familiar aluminum items are also great, and include serious impacts on community and worker health. The conversion of bauxite, or aluminum ore to primary aluminum is also the world’s most energy-intensive industrial process, and aluminum producers use more electricity than any other industry. The aluminum industry is also a significant contributor to global warming.

About half of all electricity consumed by the aluminum industry comes from hydroelectricity, a percentage that industry experts predict will increase in coming years. Many dams have been constructed worldwide to power the aluminum industry. Among the best known and most destructive are Tucuruí, in the Brazilian Amazon, which flooded 2,860 km² of rainforests and displaced more than 24,000 people; the James Bay Complex in Canada, which flooded nearly 16,000 km² and has affected hunting grounds of the Cree and Inuit indigenous peoples; and Akosombo, in Ghana, which created the world’s largest man–made lake (8,482 km²) and displaced 84,000 people. Destructive hydroelectric projects currently being planned or developed in Iceland , Malaysia, Cameroon and Brazil will also fuel the expansion of aluminum production.

Other Resources on the Web

  • Alcoa, World’s largest aluminum company, whose Amazon expansion is driving demand for new hydroelectric dams.

Latest Additions

In Whose Interest? The Lom Pangar Dam and Energy Sector Development in Cameroon

This joint report reveals how the aluminum industry in Cameroon is being prioritized over the energy needs of the country’s majority population, at great social and environmental risk, and without a participatory planning process for energy development.

June 2006


Press release by Container Recycling Institute and the International Rivers.

May 17, 2006