Residents living close to the Rusal plant in Aughinish have voiced concerns over an incident in which some properties were coated in red dust during the severe storm of February 12.
The company subsequently carried out a clean-up operation in the area and offered to power hose any properties that were affected.
However, some residents are worried that the red dust may have contained dangerous materials. They are also concerned that something similar may occur again.
One resident told the Leader that his house was completely coated in the red dust, which is left over after alumina is extracted from bauxite rock during the manufacturing process.
“I couldn’t even see out my front window. The whole place ran red - trees, the road, everything was coated in dust,” he said.
Another local resident claimed that the dust came from a newly opened storage pond on the Rusal site. A number of years ago, Rusal was granted permission to expand the pond area and to raise the height of the dry-stacked red mud.
Pointing out that the mud is still 40 feet below the land surface in this new pond, the resident said he was concerned that similar incidents could recur as more red dust is added and the height of the pond rises.
“They said this was a once-off, but once-off is too much,” he said.
He added that he has taken a number of samples of the red dust from his property and plans to have it independently tested.
The company has moved to reassure local residents that the dust is “not harmful”. A spokesperson confirmed that Storm Darwin caused some dust to be blown onto a number of neighbouring properties. He described that storms as “an unprecedented weather event which the plant has not experienced in its 30 years of operation”.
“Winds were hurricane force with wind speeds of 160 kph recorded at the Rusal Aughinish Jetty. The westerly winds exceeded 110 kph for approximately two hours at Rusal Aughinish and Met Eireann has reported that Storm Darwin was one of the most violent in Irish history ranking it among the top five worst storms to hit Ireland since records began in 1860,” the spokesman said.
“During this period, the extremely high winds carried some wet dust from our new BRDA [Bauxite Residue Disposal Area]facility in the general vicinity of the main entrance into Aughinish. We began to clean the entrance to the plant immediately after the storm to bring it back to its usual cleanliness.
“Inspections by our people in the locality found that some airborne wet dust was also carried onto the properties of a small number of our near neighbours. It is important to state that this dust is not harmful. However, we do appreciate the concern and annoyance of those neighbours affected.”
The day after the storm, company representatives visited 11 houses in the area to check whether they had been affected by the dust.
“In line with our good neighbour policy, we offered to have all windows cleaned as well as extending the offer of power hosing any area where dust may have been present, to five of our near neighbours. Three of the five have taken up this offer and the work has since been completed,” he spokesman continued.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has, as a matter of course, been informed of the issues arising and the remedial actions.
“We have revised and updated our Storm Procedures to ensure that this unprecedented event will not be repeated.”