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Global Ideas

Picture of the week: Beautiful but hazardous

Aluminium production generates one of the most dangerous waste products in the mining industry: red mud. And it's hard to get rid of.

BdW Global Ideas Frankreich Gardanne - Aluminiumproduktion & roter Schlamm

This week's picture was taken in Gardanne, France, at a landfill operated by the Alteo aluminium plant. The soil's reddish color results from a mixture of solid and metallic oxides found in the oozy waste product of the industrial production of aluminium. About 77 million tons of this so-called red mud are produced annually. It is one of the most pressing disposal problems in the mining industry. In most countries where red mud is produced, it is pumped into holding ponds. Farming or construction can no longer take place on the land, once it's used for red mud, even after the mud is dry.

When in October 2010, approximately one million cubic meters of this mud were accidentally released in Hungary, ten people were killed and all life in a river in the region vanished.

The Alteo plant has been manufacturing aluminium for decades.The company disposes of the waste through a 47-km-long underground and 7-km-long undersea pipeline connecting the Gardanne site to the Cassidaigne submarine canyon. Since 1996, over 20 million tons of this mud have been pumped into a 2400 square kilometer section of the seabed.