An agreement to build a $1.5 billion smelter in Soutwestern Trinidad by U.S. based ALCOA Inc. has caused continuous protests and left tens of thousands of residents worried about the environmental and social destruction it would cause.
“By no means we are going to accept a smelter plant in the area. We are prepared to die to stop the construction of the plant,” said Fitzroy Beache, President of Chatham/Cap-de-Ville Environmental Protection Group.
Area residents claim that the aluminum smelter will displace families and that its toxic emissions will poison local water sources and dimish bio-diversity in the region.
Residents have recently tried to block company employees from conducting soil tests and have kept a round-the-clock protest vigil at the proposed construction site.The company is required to complete and Enivronmental Impact Assessment before the deal is submitted to parliament for possible approval.
Winston Dookeran, MP for St. Augustine, recently urged the government to respect the rights of local communities.
"Community rights…is the fundamental right of all communities in the new world in which we live. Public consultation is not a substitute for community rights," said Dookeran.
The U.S. Justice Department recently fined Alcoa over $9 million in penalties for almost 2000 environmental violations at its Texas smelter. The company in turn tried to get the court to relax pollution emmission rates.
A smelter in Peru, by another U.S. based company, may be an indication of what’s in store for Trinidad.
In December 2005, a team from the Saint Louis University School of Public Health found La Oroya (where the smelter is located) residents’ blood to contain elevated levels of toxic subtances. Among them was cadmium, a poisonous element known to cause kidney failure and cancer. The level of cadmium was six times higher than acceptable U.S. levels.
In addition, a 2004 study conducted by the company and local health officials concluded more than 99 percent of children under six had lead poisoning.
An Alcoa spokesperson said the company plans to stay in Trinidad for 40 to 50 years.