A mention of a minor problem being faced by Glencore in the run up to the float:
It is also facing a multi-million dollar claim relating to the leak of hazardous substances from an alumina refinery in the US Virgin Islands.
I think I know what that\’s likely to be. And yes, it is.
The waste from alumina production is called \”red mud\”. 40 % ish iron oxides, 20% Al2O3, 5% mebbe TiO2 and 5-10% NaOH then lots of minor and trace bits. This is the same stuff that flooded over parts of Hungary last autumn.
No one\’s really got a solution to getting rid of this stuff. The best disposal method is simply to dump it at sea. But people don\’t like you doing that very much.
So it gets collected in lagoons and allowed to weather. Or as in this case, it\’s pressed to extract the liquids and then stacked as dry blocks.
There\’s no real problem with the material itself: while it\’s very fine, and thus dusty, the composition is, well, just rock really. Except for one thing, that NaOH. Otherwise known as caustic soda, or lye. This has a viciously high ph (it can make the whole lot up as far as 13, 13.5). There are numerous tales of animals wading into such lagoons and dissolving.
When it\’s dry, and the dust starts to blow around, it can and will cause eye problems in the surrounding people. There\’s also, in Jamaica, the slight worry that these lagoons are up in the mountains. Nice hurricane and there\’s the possibility that the laggon will overfill and maybe even burst. And when your millions upon million of tonnes of highly caustic slurry are up a mountain…..might be rather worse than the Hungarian thing really.
So, everyone would really rather like a proper solution. And this is something we\’re working on ourselves. We can see it conceptually, can see that each of the component parts of the solution works and are awaiting a decision on some grant money to check whether it really works in practice.
And this is where it gets difficult. For of course, a reasonable source of funding for this sort of work would be those who currently own these lagoons, even perhaps those currently being sued over these lagoons. But they\’re actually the very last people who are interested in funding such work.
For to do so would indicate that they agree that the current storage/disposal methods of red mud are problematic. Yet there are all of these lawsuits (and there are many of them) where they are stoutly maintaining that there\’s no problem at all. You see the problem?
So there\’s this od situation. I someone turned up with a guarnateed, no doubt about it, solution. A real disposal method. All of these companies would be all over that solution. But while it\’s only a possible, a potential, solution, it\’s in their interests to have nothing to do with it. And certainly not to finance the search for a solution.
Weird, innit, other people\’s working lives?