Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro ASA is facing civil charges in court that it allowed the world’s biggest aluminium smelter contaminate a nearby river in Brazil, harming thousands of indigenous families in the area.
Plaintiffs in the Dutch suit say the pollution from Alunorte occurred for several years in the state of Para. Listed on the complaint are nine individuals claiming harm and the group Cainquiama, an association of about 11 thousand local indigenous families. Norsk Hydro is named in the suit, along with co-defendants including several subsidiaries and shareholders in the firm.
“A lot of people have suffered horrible health effects as a result […] That dates back at least two decades,” explained plaintiffs’ attorney Marc Krestin to the AFP last week.
“Some developed various forms of cancer. Others developed skin diseases […] Babies have been born with their intestines outside their bodies.”
The overflow of red mud that the plaintiffs are alleging “resulted in many of the indigenous tribes […] suffering from poor physical health as well as taking away their income and access to food and clean water.”
For its part, Norsk Hydro has formally denied all allegations and notes that it is already facing similar charges in Brazil’s court system.
In an email to AFP, Norsk Hydro’s senior vice president for media relations Halvor Molland said that it would prefer to settle the issue in Brazil’s courts.
“We therefore believe these issues are best addressed locally in Brazil and have asked that the Dutch court stays the matter until a final decision has been reached in the Brazilian cases.”
“(The) allegations remain unsubstantiated and there is no evidence of contamination in the communities caused by Alunorte related to the February 2018 rainfall,” he continued.
Norsk Hydro, which was founded in 1905, financed by the Swedish Wallenberg family and French banks, began its life named Norsk hydro-elektrisk Kvælstofaktieselskab (literally, “Norwegian hydro-electric nitrogen limited”) by Sam Eyde. The Norwegian government owns approximately 40% of the company at the present time. Norsk Hydro is one of the largest aluminium companies in the world, with plants in Rjukan, Raufoss, Vennesla, Karmøy, Høyanger, Årdal, Sunndalsøra, and Holmestrand. Norsk also has several plants abroad.