Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Sulphur Dioxide plumes of Kwinana - The cancer capital of Australia

Australia is renown for having beautiful coastlines and expanses of white sandy beaches, as well as being one of the driest continents in the world. Therefore, It comes as a suprise to find situated on what could be described as a magnificent coastal stretch of Western Australian water, an Industrial region that spans 12 kilometers along the foreshore from north to south and is approximately 2 kilometers wide. This region is located 37 kilometers south of Perth, the Western Australian capital, and takes up 1,180 hectares of land, 80 % of which a small, tiny, little company called Alcoa occupies.
Small may have been a slight exaggeration on my part, after all Alcoa only has 250 operations that spread across a tiny community of 30 nations, with Western Australia being lucky enough to acquire three of these magnifiers of beauty, restorers of nature and revitalizers of natural resources.
Hey, it is a well-known fact that Australia is the lucky country!
Alcoa, also known as the Aluminum Company of America, operates in this Industrial region of Kwinana, 15 km south of Fremantle, Perth and a stone throw from the central business district. The Kwinana refinery began in 1963 and produces 1.9 million tones of aluminum annually. Coupled with the other Western Australian refineries, Australia produces 15% of the worlds Aluminum, which is a fabulous feat considering Alcoa depletes natural resources including Australia's precious water supply, quicker than mother nature can reproduce.
This makes perfect sense when Australia is one of the driest continents on earth.
In a recent study of Perth, the CSIRO or Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization reported:
a 10% decrease in average rainfall and an estimated higher median temperature for the region. They predict this figure will impact upon the ground water of Perth reducing its holding by up to 50%, and they predict that in the future it will become even hotter.
Alcoa plays a significant part in this process because not only do they use natural resources, they also contaminate them, the land surrounding them, the air we breathe, and our glorious ozone layer. It's like a bad Christmas present that you can't return, or sell on eBay.
Without taking into consideration the size of the Alcoa plant in Kwinana — because of its insignificance causing an environmental impact — and the lack of incredibly loud noise associated with production, it is hard to ignore the captivating stream of carbon monoxide emissions, sulphur dioxide (So2), Benzene and volatile organic compounds (VOC) cascading into the air.
What a truly magnificent sight! Plumes of smoke 30-100 meters high. It brings a tear to my eye, and coughing to my lungs. Also, my nose is running.
These plumes then settle and hang around for up to 24 hours, which adds to the entertainment factor because you can now choose, if you wish, to run and frolic in them instead of just viewing their destruction from afar.
Sulphur dioxide only attacks the throat and lungs of the creatures residing nearby, making breathing difficult, and attacks plant vegetation, eventually destroying it. Volatile organic compounds erode our ozone layer and allow harmful UV rays to penetrate the atmosphere. Of course, Alcoa, state:
they are committed to using fewer resources, reducing toxic waste and pollution and becoming more environmentally friendly. They also swear they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, and that they have introduced cleaner production programs.
In making these promises, Alcoa also applied for a new license.
The truly wonderful thing is, Alcoa is expanding. In 2003, they built new bauxite residue and storage ponds that are clay-lined, which of course prevents residue from permeating the earth.
This by-product of aluminum manufacturing takes years to dissipate and these ponds like the Alcoa operation are only small; they cover a tiny area of 44 hectares.
With Kwinana dubbed the Cancer Capital of Western Australia and many bizarre types of Cancer killing off the workers of Alcoa, it makes perfect sense that the Western Australian government is allowing brand new residential areas to be constructed in close proximity.
The real estate offices have been inundated with calls and they have almost sold out of potentially 'fabulous' blocks with a view. You can see that magnificent plume and there may even be a possibility you can play in it.
Of course, research has been conducted to ensure the environment is safe to build on. These tests were carried out by Alcoa themselves, because the Department of Minerals and Energy thought that the Department of Environmental Protection was doing it, and they in turn thought the Department of Health were responsible, so therefore they were unable to decide who should carry out the relevant studies. In addition, they thought Alcoa had done such a fantastic job, they would borrow their study instead.
Talk about shifting the responsibility. Maybe they thought Alcoa resembled a hot potato.
Who could honesty expect anything more from a governing body who find it challenging to issue a license to destroy mother nature and rape the earth. And, we worry about gun licenses!
Alcoa now has a brand-new license to kill, and no, the company is not related to James Bond. They will, however, continue to pollute the air we breathe with toxic emissions, destroy vegetation, create acid rain, drain our natural resources and contaminate the earth.
Our future is so bright I definitely will have to wear shades, and protective clothing and sunscreen and an oxygen mask and…


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