From Iceland — Smelter Emissions May Have Sickened Horses

Smelter Emissions May Have Sickened Horses

Published June 9, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Natsha Nandabhiwat

Fluorine pollution from a nearby aluminium smelter may be causing horses in the area to be getting ill.

RÚV reports that Ragnheiður Þorgrímsdóttir, who takes care of the horses at Kúludalsá farm, has noticed a disturbing trend. Many of the horses on the farm have struggled with illness for years due to metabolic disorders. It also so happens that the farm is located just five kilometres west of the aluminium smelter at Grundartangi.

In 2006, an accident at the plant caused fluorine to be released into the environment. The conclusion of the Environmental Office at the time of the accident was that fluorine levels in the surrounding area had doubled.

As the illness in these horses began shortly after the accident, Ragnheiður believes there is reason to believe fluorine poisoning is behind their sickness. While an expert at the Ministry of Industry and Innovation agrees this is likely, both the Icelandic Food & Veterinary Authority and Norðurál, the company which runs the smelter, have their doubts.

Be that as it may, this is not the first time fluorine pollution from the smelter has been linked to animal illnesses. In 2011, an area sheep farmer noticed strange deformities in his animals that gave strong indications of fluorine poisoning.

Fluorine emissions have also spread from smelters elsewhere in the country, as was the case in 2012, when fluorine emissions from the Alcoa Fjarðaál smelter in Reyðarfjörður exceeded safe limits that summer, prompting Alcoa to send warnings to area farmers that hay grown in the region may have been poisoned.

The fluorine levels discovered were measured at 3,000 microgrammes per gramme of bone ash from three sheep, and 3,900 microgrammes in one in six sheep at the nearby farm Slétta. The “danger mark” for fluorine concentrations is 4,000 to 6,000 microgrammes. Before the smelter began operations, fluorine levels in sheep were usually somewhere around only 800 microgrammes.

Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir of the Environmental Agency expressed concerns about these results, saying, “We are worried about this. We need to pay close attention to this, and continue investigations.”

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