Large Norwegian aluminum company Norsk Hydro lashed back at its critics on Monday with two new reports claiming that it was not responsible for polluting water supplies near its Alunorte plant in Brazil. Hydro’s stock soared on the claims, up 6.62 percent at the close of trading in Oslo, but Brazilian authorities rejected them later in the day.
“Both reports confirm our earlier statements that there was no overflow from the bauxite residue deposit areas” at its Alunorte plant, claimed Hydro CEO Svein Richard Brandtzæg in a press release Monday afternoon. He added that there is “no indication or evidence of contamination to nearby local communities” after heavy rains in mid-February.
The reports were prepared by an internal task force at Hydro and an independent Brazilian environmental consulting firm, SGW Services. They follow earlier admissions and apologies from Hydro for the spills of toxic waste of which it was accused.
Now Brandtzæg claims there is no evidence that Hydro’s aluminum refinery, the biggest such plant in the world, was behind the pollution that left it facing what he called the worst crisis he had faced as head of the large industrial concern. It has left the company with a tarnished reputation, a dramatic decline in its stock prices and facing heavy fines while also under orders to significantly cut production.
Local authorities and environmental activists in the area believe contaminated water from the basins collecting the so-called “red mud” from bauxite deposits leaked out of Hydro’s facility and polluted the local water supply. Brazilian prosecutors have sued Hydro and demanded nearly NOK 600 million in guarantees to secure compensation claims. Hydro has since threatened countersuits, claiming a Brazilian report on the alleged leaks was flawed. Earlier talks between Hydro and local authorities broke down last week.
Now the company not only rejects the charges of spills and contamination but also claims there is “no indication or evidence of any significant or lasting environmental impact to nearby rivers.”
Brandtzæg stressed at a press conference in Oslo on Monday, however, that Hydro had “initiated several measures to further enhance Alunorte’s operational standards, including water treatment capacity, emergency preparedness plans and maintenance.”
He also claimed Hydro would “strengthen community engagement to ensure that we contribute to sustainable development” in the region of Barcarena, in line with Hydro’s corporate social responsibility strategy.
Critics quickly claimed that Hydro was merely “cleansing itself” of the problems at Alunorte. One of the prosecutors in Brazil told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Hydro was only “making things worse for itself” by refusing to accept responsibility for industrial pollution from Alunorte.
“It will be a long time before the plant is in full operation again,” prosecutor Ubiratan Cazetta told NRK. “They say there aren’t problems with the water, but there are. I can’t rely on the conclusions in their report.”
See Hydro’s full statement here (external link to Hydro’s website).