Alcoa facing legal action over allegations of illegal dumping

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A pair of environmental groups is preparing to file a lawsuit against Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Corp. over alleged violations of the Clear Water Act at the company’s Warrick Operations in Newburgh.

The Sierra Club and Environmental Integrity Project have sent a notice of intent to sue, claiming Alcoa’s smelting plant has dumped illegal amounts of mercury into the Ohio River.

A recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project said the smelter, which was built in 1960, exceeded its legal limits on discharges of mercury into the river 32 times between 2018 and 2023. Overall, the smelter violated its water pollution control permit at least 101 times during the same period, the group said.

The organization said the smelter is “the aluminum industry’s worst violator of water pollution laws in the U.S.”

“This aluminum smelting facility is blowing past limits for mercury that have been put in place to protect the water quality of the Ohio River,” Meg Parish, senior attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a news release. “It is past time for Alcoa to comply with the Clean Water Act and install modern wastewater treatment systems to reduce this pollution.”

The groups also said in the notice that toxins from the facility have exceeded limits for other pollutants, including aluminum, chlorine, copper, fluoride, nickel and zinc.

A notice of intent to sue is required by federal law to be provided to defendants at least 60 days before filing a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. The plaintiffs must also notify the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The groups said Alcoa could be required to take action to reduce its pollution to meet legal limits and face penalties of up to $64,618 per day for each violation.

“The Ohio River doesn’t belong to Alcoa to pollute with impunity; it belongs to everyone to use and enjoy without fear of being poisoned,” said Joab Schultheis, energy committee chair for the Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club. “I’m hopeful this notice will be enough for Alcoa to agree it needs to comply with our clean water safeguards.”

In response to the notice, Alcoa provided the following statement in an email to Inside INdiana Business:

“Alcoa Corp. is committed to operating in compliance with all applicable legal requirements, and we consistently work with regulatory authorities in a transparent manner.”

You can connect to the full notice by clicking here.

In July 2022, Alcoa announced it had ended one of its three smelting lines at the Warrick Operations. The company said the move was made due to “operational challenges” but did not provide specifics.

A year earlier, Alcoa sold its rolling mill business at the Warrick Operations to Kaiser Aluminum Corp. in California in a deal valued at $670 million, though the company maintained its smelter and electric generating units at the site.

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