Science

Releases of red mud in the Calanques: five additional months to comply

The prefecture has just granted a deadline to the Altéo plant in Gardanne which has been the subject of sharp criticism for years for its discharges at sea, in the Calanques national park but also for the storage of solid waste on land, near Gardanne.

The Alteo de Gardanne (Bouches-du-Rhône) factory, currently in receivership, has been granted an additional 5 months to bring its liquid discharges into the Calanques into compliance with environmental standards.

“This deadline requested by Alteo must be granted urgently” in order to allow it to continue operating beyond the 31 December 2019 “, explains the order made on Monday by the Prefect of Bouches-du-Rhône, order released Thursday by Radio France.

In this text, Pierre Dartout emphasizes that Alteo, world leader in specialty aluminas, employs “more than 500 employees” in Gardanne. And he highlights “the risks of destabilization that a sudden cessation of activity would pose on the territory” . This decree gives Alteo until June 8 for the company to bring its liquid discharges into compliance with the Calanques National Park, for the last two parameters on which it is still out of bounds: biological oxygen demand (BOD5) and chemical oxygen demand (COD).

Extra time

A prefectural order of 28 December 2015 initially authorized Alteo to exceed environmental standards until 31 December 2021, for six parameters on 51 in total. This deadline had been reduced by two years, to 31 December 2019, by a judgment of the Marseille Administrative Court of 20 July 2018.

If the company already meets the standards for iron, arsenic, aluminum and Ph, it has been asking for more months for additional time for BOD5 and COD. In his decree, the Prefect specifies that the company has started the construction of a new biological treatment station which will allow him to definitively comply with environmental standards.

“Not the necessary efforts”

Before the Marseille Administrative Court of Appeal, in January 2019, the lawyer for the Union Calanques Littoral, an environmental defense association, denounced “the fable of technical impossibility “advanced by the company:” Alteo simply does not make the necessary efforts “, he had insisted.

The Alteo de Gardanne factory was placed in receivership on 12 December, at the request of the company, which has highlighted a “sharp drop” in orders. The Alteo holding company has been placed under safeguard procedure.

Alteo Gardanne posted sales of 242 million euros in 2018 . Specialty aluminas produced in Bouches-du-Rhône are used, among other things, in building materials such as tiles and in components of high-tech products such as smartphone or television screens.

Sludge loaded with arsenic or cadmium

Former production site of Péchiney alumina and the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, the Gardanne factory, created in 1894, was bought in 2012 by the American investment fund HIG and renamed Alteo. The company has been the subject of strong criticism for years for its discharges into the sea, in the Calanques National Park but also for the storage of solid waste on land, near Gardanne.

In 50 years, Alteo would have sent into the sea at least 20 million tonnes of “sludge” loaded with arsenic or cadmium.

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