Smelting non-ferrous metals: soil and air pollution

Non-ferrous metals are pure metals, mostly without traces of iron. They are more costly than ferrous metals.

They are light in weight, not magnetic, possess high conductivity.

The important ones today are aluminium, copper, lead, nickel, tin, titanium, zinc.

Mined ores are processed to concentrate the minerals of interest. In the case of metal ores, these mineral concentrates usually need to be further processed to separate the metal from other elements in the ore minerals. Smelting is the process of separating the metal from impurities by heating the concentrate to a high temperature to cause the metal to melt. Smelting the concentrate produces a metal or a high-grade metallic mixture along with a solid waste product called slag.

The principal sources of pollution caused by smelting are contaminant-laden air emissions and process wastes such as wastewater and slag.

Extract from Pollution issues

I used to live not far from the Alcan Smelter at Lynemouth, Northumberland. It was a feature of the North East coastline. It was closed in 2012 by Rio Tinto, part of the Canadian aluminium company Alcan. The reason given was that it was uneconomic.

1974 – 2012

In April 2010, the European Court of Justice said the emissions from the plant were exceeding limit values laid down in the 2001 directive. The UK government disagreed.

In older smelters, air emissions contained elevated levels of various metals. Copper and selenium, for example, which can be released from copper smelters, are essential to organisms as trace elements, but they are toxic if they are overabundant. These metals can contaminate the soil in the vicinity of smelters, destroying much of the vegetation. In addition, particulate matter emitted from smelters may include oxides of such toxic metals as arsenic (cumulative poison), cadmium (heart disease), and mercury (nerve damage).

Read more:

Sudbury, in Ontario, Canada, is one of the world’s largest smelting complexes, with an international reputation as a highly polluted area that has been mined for more than one hundred years. The environmental impact was completely or partially denuded vegetation on over 46,000 hectares and 7,000 acid-damaged lakes. Smelting caused much of the ecological damage via acid rain and elevated levels of copper and nickel in the vicinity of the smelters. Efforts by government and industry since the 1970s have eliminated most of the sulfur dioxide emissions in the area, and there has been significant progress toward achieving sustainable ecosystems.

Read more:

Aluminium production accounts for 0.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet demand for aluminium is rising. On the other hand, aluminium is easier to recycle than steel and makes lighter vehicles. In another year or two, new technology will be applied to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aluminium smelting process, but such emissions will still be great from the energy required to power smelters. This is often still coal.

China is moving away from coal-fired powered smelters to try to reduce carbon emissions, serious problems in that country. Shandong is China’s largest aluminium producing province. The whole production has moved from Shandong to hydro power rich Yunnan.

Here is a description of the harm a community can suffer when Aluminium Smelting companies arrive in their area:

Rio Tinto Alcan received a permit from the B.C. government in 2013 that allowed the company to increase production of aluminum at its smelter in Kitimat, leading to a 56 per cent increase in sulphur dioxide emissions. Currently, both the government and Rio Tinto Alcan are defending that permit in front of a tribunal acting for the B.C. Environmental Appeals Board in Kitimat.……….

Further extract:

Part of the problem, Stannus said, is that the aluminum plant is a major job provider for Kitimat.

“Without Alcan, Kitimat would be nothing,” she said. “Kitimat literally wouldn’t be here.”

Alcan, now owned by multi-national mining magnate Rio Tinto, used to be fondly referred to as “Uncle Al” by Kitimat residents.

The company created Kitimat as an artificial township in the 1950s to support a growing workforce. Although the planned city was originally created with 150,000 residents in mind, its current population is between 8,000 and 9,000 — about 1,400 of which rely on the smelter for employment.

“It’s like nobody would speak out if they worked for Rio Tinto Alcan,” she said. “You just wouldn’t speak up.”

……………Rio Tinto Alcan’s ability to reduce its sulphur dioxide emissions is central to the appeal hearings.

Giving testimony before the appeal panel, Ian Sharpe, director of environmental protection with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, said before granting the permit he required evidence Rio Tinto Alcan “could and would” install pollution reduction technology called scrubbers “should there be a need to have emissions lower than what they applied for.”

But rather than require the company to install scrubbers, which would prevent the increase of sulphur dioxide emissions, the province granted Rio Tinto Alcan a permit to increase its emissions for an indefinite amount of time.

Sharpe told the panel he decided not to impose sulphur dioxide limits on Rio Tinto Alcan because both B.C. and the federal government are considering updating their own standards in coming years.

Stannus said she doesn’t understand why the province will allow emissions to go up if the company has already prepared for the installation of scrubbers.

Corporates can move in with carrots dangling of employment, building a close knit paternal work-life community, attracting people from surrounding areas to form new lives with the new company. This can turnout to be a coercive trap, such as highlighted in my earlier blog about DuPont and the community of Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Trees Killed By Acid Rain is a photograph by Simon Fraser/science Photo Library which was uploaded on October 1st, 2018.

Health reports confirmed widespread over-exposure to toxic arsenic at Tsumeb smelter in Namibia

Following Bankwatch’s revelations about toxic pollutants at the Tsumeb smelter in Namibia, the smelter’s owner, Canadian mining company Dundee Precious Metals (DPM), contested our findings in Namibian news reports. Without substantiating its claims with facts, however, and in light of the results of local health surveys the company’s reassurances ring hollow and meaningless.

Genady Kondarev, Bulgarian campaigner  |  22 December 2015

About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see
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2 Responses to Smelting non-ferrous metals: soil and air pollution

  1. Pingback: Lithium Mining expansion: Threats and Opportunities | borderslynn

  2. Pingback: Let’s Have “extended producer responsibility”! | borderslynn

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