The Environmental Impact Assessment

The Environmental Impact Assessment

Evaluation of

The Environmental Impact Assessment

For the Proposed Aluminium Smelter

(2,50,000 TPA)

Near Jharsuguda, Orissa

Prepared by:

Mark Chernaik, Ph.D.

Staff Scientist

Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide U.S.

October 2005

This document expresses the opinion of its author and not necessarily the opinions of the U.S. office of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide or other individuals or oganizations affiliated with the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.

At the request of Nityanand Jayaraman, I evaluated the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Proposed Aluminium Smelter (2,50,000 TPA) Near Jharsuguda, Orissa (the EIA).


In 1990, I earned a doctorate in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. Since 1992, I have held the position of Staff Scientist for the U.S. Office of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide in Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A. In this position, I provide expert advice about the environmental impacts of industrial facilities to environmental professionals throughout the world. My submissions have been noted in judgments of the Supreme Court of India and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.[1] In the past few years, I have helped environmental professionals assess the impacts of aluminum smelters in Chile, Jamaica, Trinidad, Malaysia, and Australia.

In my view, the EIA contains the following deficiencies.

2. The EIA fails to require use of adequate technology to limit the environmental impacts of aluminum smelters

The sponsor of the proposed project – Vedanta Alumina Limited (VAL) – is proposing to build an aluminum smelter that falls far short of twenty-first century environmental standards.

In December 2001, the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Bureau of the European Commission published its Reference Document on Best Available Techniques in the Non Ferrous Metals Industries.[2] These best available techniques reference documents (BREFs) specify pollution control measures that must be taken into account when the competent authorities of Member States impose conditions for permits to industrial facilities. Vedanta Resources plc, the parent company of the sponsor of this proposed project, is located in the United Kingdom – a Member State of the European Commission. As described below, Vedanta Resources would be discouraged on environmental grounds from building in the U.S. and the European Union the kind of facility that it is proposing to build near Jharsuguda, Orissa for the following reasons.

2.1.The proposed aluminum smelter would do nothing to control emissions of poly-fluorinated hydrocarbons (PFCs)

The release of poly-fluorinated hydrocarbons (PFCs) is one of the most significant impacts of aluminum smelters. According to the IPCC:

“PFCs as tetra-fluoro methane (CF4) and hexa-fluoro ethane (C2F6) are formed during the anode effects. They are emitted in the ratio CF4:C2F6 approximately 10:1. They cannot be removed from the gas stream with existing technology once they are formed ... Emissions of PFCs are a key environmental issue for the aluminium industry and extensive research is under way to improve the presently incomplete knowledge of the problems and possible solutions.”[3]

The control of PFCs must be a top priority for operators of aluminum smelters. According to the IPCC:

“Polyfluorinated carbons (PFC’s) like CF4 and C2F6 are produced during the anode effect in the electrolysis cells. Both gases are powerful climate gases with 100 year Global Warming Potential’s of 6500 and 9200 respectively. …

“Taking these factors into consideration the use of centre worked prebaked cells with automatic multiple point feeding of alumina is considered to be BAT for the production of primary aluminium. The process will have the following features: Computer control of the electrolysis process based on active cell databases and monitoring of cell operating parameters to minimise the energy consumption and reduce the number and duration of anode effect.”[4]

The EIA for the proposed aluminum smelter near Jharsuguda, Orissa, contains no information about how the sponsor of the project will control emissions of PFCs.

2.2.The proposed aluminum smelter would do nothing to control sulfur dioxide emissions

The proposed aluminum smelter would be a significant source of sulfur dioxide emissions. According to the EIA, the petroleum coke used for the production of carbon electrodes that form the aluminum reduction cells will contain 3% sulfur, all of which is converted to sulfur dioxide and emitted into the atmosphere from anode bake ovens and when anode is consumed during electrolysis.[5]

Sulfur dioxide is a criteria air pollutant. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

“Sulfur dioxide (SO2) causes a wide variety of health and environmental impacts because of the way it reacts with other substances in the air. Particularly sensitive groups include people with asthma who are active outdoors and children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung disease. Peak levels of SO2 in the air can cause temporary breathing difficulty for people with asthma who are active outdoors. Longer-term exposures to high levels of SO2 gas and particles cause respiratory illness and aggravate existing heart disease. SO2 reacts with other chemicals in the air to form tiny sulfate particles. When these are breathed, they gather in the lungs and are associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death.”[6]

According to the IPCC:

“Taking these factors into consideration the use of centre worked prebaked cells with automatic multiple point feeding of alumina is considered to be BAT for the production of primary aluminium. The process will have the following features: … If local, regional or long-range environmental impacts require sulphur dioxide reductions, the use of low sulphur carbon for the anodes or anode paste if practicable or a sulphur dioxide scrubbing system.”[7]

The EIA for the proposed aluminum smelter near Jharsuguda, Orissa, contains no information about how the sponsor of the project will control emissions of sulfur dioxide.

2.3The proposed aluminum smelter would dispose of spent pot liners in landfills

Improper disposal of spent aluminum pot liners (SPLs) poses a major environmental risk. In the United States, spent aluminum pot liners are a listed hazardous waste (K088 – Spent Aluminum Potliners).[8] According to the U.S. EPA:

“Constituents found in this waste included polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and metals, including arsenic, fluoride, and cyanide. Generally, concentrations of these constituents in spent potliners are as follows: <0.005mg/kg to 200 mg/kg polynuclear aromatics, <1.1 to <40 mg/kg arsenic, 18.25 mg/kg to 9,190 mg/kg total cyanide, 2.6 mg/kg to 4,800 mg/kg amenable cyanide, 230 mg/kg to 135,000 mg/kg fluoride, and various concentrations of other hazardous metals.”[9]

Several “Superfund” sites in the United States (that is, sites listed on the National Priorities List and requiring government-financed remedial actions) have resulted from the improper disposal of SPLs, costing several millions of dollars in clean-up costs.[10]

The U.S. EPA prohibits the disposal on land of untreated spent aluminum pot liners.[11] According to the U.S. EPA.:

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a more environmentally-sound regulatory strategy for the treatment of K088 waste. Every year around 100,000 tons of K088 waste (spent aluminum potliner from primary aluminum reduction) is generated by the aluminum industry. Under our existing Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) program, generators are required to treat this waste to meet numerical concentrations standards prior to land disposal. Current treatment methods, while effective in achieving these numerical standards, have resulted in an almost three-fold increase in waste volume. Today's proposal signals a new direction for the LDR program, one which fosters the use of environmentally-sound recycling technologies over treatment that merely prepares a waste for land disposal. This proposal not only promotes the use of a technology that generates two usable products, fluoride dust and glass frit, it also results in the destruction of significant amounts of cyanide in K088 waste.”[12]

According to the IPPCB:

“The principles of the minimisation and re-used of process residues are techniques that form part of BAT. ... Particular examples are: The use of SPL in other processes as raw material or as a fuel, if possible.”[13]

Without any justification for doing so and contrary to internationally mandated best practices, the EIA for the proposed aluminum smelter near Jharsuguda, Orissa, calls for land disposal of unteated SPLs.

3.The EIA fails to assess the impact of the disposal of spent pot liners

Beyond failing to provide for adequate treatment of SPLs (see discussion immediately preceding), Chapter 4 of the EIA on Impact Assessment contains no information whatsoever about how the land disposal of SPLs would impact the environment. Chapter 5 of the EIA on Environmental Management Plan contains scant details about how and where the SPLs would be disposed on land. The EIA merely states:

“Land disposal scheme may contain lined pits. This landfill sites will be designated as a secure containment in conformity with CPCB guidelines. It is envisaged to dispose these wastes into liner pond with impervious liner made of HDPE and also to install a leachate collection system and leak detection system.”[14]

The EIA’s failure to assess the impact of the disposal of spent pot liners leaves the following critical questions unanswered: 1) Which groundwater and surface water resources would be imperiled by the land disposal of SPLs? 2) How much cyanide, fluoride and other toxic substances would enter these water resources under a foreseeable worst-case scenario or during the decades after the waste material is abandoned?

4.The EIA fails to adequately assess the impact of air pollutant emissions

Chapter 4 of the EIA on Impact Assessment, Section 4.3.4 on Impact on Air Quality, contains a quantitative assessment of how air pollutant emissions from the proposed aluminum smelter would impact ambient air quality. This assessment suffers from a number of serious flaws.

4.1.The EIA uses erroneous air pollutant emission factors

To predict how a proposed industrial facility would impact ambient air quality, one needs to know the rate at which the facility will release pollutants into the air and a computer model to predict how their release will affect levels of pollutants in air surrounding the facility. For two critical pollutants – particulate matter and fluorides – the sponsor of the project simply assumes that emissions will be equivalent to the norms proscribed by the Orissa State Pollution Control Board.[15]

This assumption is completely unwarranted. For example, the EIA provides no information about how particulate matter emissions would be controlled from the captive power plant, which would be the principal source of this air pollutant from the overall facility. Because the section of air quality impacts is based primarily on an assumption of compliance with applicable norms, rather than on emission factors from comparable facilities using comparable control technologies, the entirety of the EIA’s air quality impact assessment is inapt.

4.2.The EIA contains no health impact assessment

Chapter 4 of the EIA on Impact Assessment, Section 4.3.4 on Impact on Air Quality also contains tables showing how the proposed aluminum smelter near Jharsuguda, Orissa, would raise ground-level concentrations of various pollutants.

In addition to being inapt (see discussion immediately preceding), the analysis of the predicted ground-level concentrations is incomplete. It is not enough to compare the predicted ground-level concentrations to prescribed norms. It is imperative to go further: how will the predicted increase in ground-level concentrations impact human health based on available demographic information?

For example, putting aside reservations about its accuracy, the predicted increase in ground-level concentrations of particulate matter of only 3.1 micrograms per cubic matter may seem innocuous. However, according to the World Health Organization and other international health experts, human exposure to particulate matter, including dust and soot, causes the following adverse health effects: premature death, respiratory illnesses, and asthma attacks. For each increase of 1 ug/m3 in particulate matter in ambient air, health experts predict the following excess incidence of disease will occur: 6.72 premature deaths per year per 100,000 persons; 690 respiratory illnesses per year for each 100,000 children; and 32,600 asthma attacks per year each 100,000 asthma sufferers.[16] These effects occur even when particulate matter levels are below prescribed norms. The EIA must, therefore, examine demographic information to assess the extent of which these health effects would be borne by the local population as a result of particulate matter emissions from the proposed project.

4.3.The EIA contains no vegetation impact assessment

Chapter 4 of the EIA on Impact Assessment, Section 4.3.4 on Impact on Air Quality also contains a serious flaw with respect to fluoride emissions. It is not the predicted increase of fluoride in ground level air that is significant; it is the predicted increase in fluoride deposition to land, and its consequence on local vegetation that must be examined.

Damage to surrounding vegetation by fluoride emissions from aluminum smelters is a well-established phenomenon.[17] According to a recent publication:

“Fluoride (F), recognized as a common gas and particulate pollutant, is emitted primarily from industrial sources such as aluminum smelters and phosphate fertilizer factories. Vegetation damage in areas exposed to industrial F emissions is considered to be caused mainly by the emission of gaseous F compounds, in addition to the water-soluble fraction of the aerially deposited particle-bound fluorides. Gaseous F uptake is carried out mainly by the assimilation organs through the stomata, and under the same conditions as in CO2 assimilation; F dissolved in water on the leaf surface can be absorbed by diffusion through the cuticle. In the present work, F concentrations in vegetation are estimated by the statistical models using environmental parameters known to have impacts on pollutant concentrations and to be readily available or easily accessible.”[18]

In this regard, the EIA for the proposed aluminum smelter near Jharsuguda, Orissa, must employ accepted methods for assessing how fluoride emissions from the proposed smelter will impact plant species in its vicinity.

[1] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1999-(003)-CLJ 0361–SC; Shehla Zia v. WAPDA, PLD 1994 (SC) 693.

[2] Available at:

[3] BREF for the Non Ferrous Metals Industries, page 287

[4] BREF for the Non Ferrous Metals Industries, pages 291 and 325-326

[5] EIA, page AVI-2

[6] Health and Environmental Impacts of SO2.

[7] BREF for the Non Ferrous Metals Industries, pages 325-326

[8] U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40, Part 261, §261.32 Hazardous wastes from specific sources

[9] U.S. EPA (May 2000) "Best Demonstrated Available Technology (BDAT)Background Document for Spent Aluminum Potliners – K088."

[10] NPL Site Narrative for National Southwire Aluminum Co. ( NPL Site Narrative for Kaiser Aluminum Mead Works (


[12] U.S. EPA (July 2000) "Proposed Rule Aims to Revise Certain Treatment Standards for Spent Potliners from Primary

Aluminum Reduction (K088) and Identify a New Regulatory Classification Scheme for Vitrification Units Treating K088 Waste."

[13] BREF for the Non Ferrous Metals Industries, page 333.

[14] EIA, page C5-14

[15] EIA, page AVI-2

[16] World Bank (1997) "Vehicular Air Pollution: Experiences from Seven Latin American Urban Centers," World Bank Technical Paper No. 373, p. 34.

[17] See: Doley, D. et al. (2004) Environmental Fluoride in Australasia: Ecological Effects, Regulation and Management Clean Air and Environmental Quality, 38(2):35-55.

[18] Dimopoulos, I.F. et al. (2003) "An Application of Parametric and Nonparametric Models to the Assessment of Fluoride Levels in Vegetation Exposed to Stack Emissions of an Aluminum Reduction Plant in Greece." J. Air & Waste Manage. Assoc. 53:396–405.