Concerns raised over aluminium plant in Limerick

Plans by Aughinish Alumnia to extend height of bauxite residue deposits could harm River Shannon and its wildlife, councillor claims

The Aughinish Alumina Refinery on the Shannon Estuary near Foynes, Co Limerick.

The Aughinish Alumina Refinery on the Shannon Estuary near Foynes, Co Limerick.


The former mayor of Limerick has said he has “serious concerns” about plans by Aughinish Alumina to extend the height of bauxite residue deposits to 100 feet on its lands adjacent to the Shannon Estuary.

According to Fine Gael councillor Jim Long, the Russian-owned company, under terms agreed in its last licence renewal, is to raise its bauxite deposits from 20 metres to 30 metres, a height of 98.425 feet.

Aughinish, which extracts millions of tonnes of alumina, leaves huge amounts of distinctive red-coloured bauxite residue, which is stored as red mud on 450 acres of land at Askeaton, Co Limerick.

“It is a red island now. Raising the red mud deposits to 30 metres, that’s nearly 100 feet. We would be creating our own mountains of this stuff. What if there is freak flash flooding or increased rainfall in the area? I would be concerned about the River Shannon if vast amounts of this stuff got into it,” Mr Long said.

He described the red coloured landscape as “completely out of sync” with the estuary’s natural habitat, that is home to protected wildlife including dolphins, otters and birds.

“Are they prepared for mother nature? She can be very unforgiving,” added Mr Long, who is a member of Voice Ireland, a environmental awareness charity based in Dublin.

A number of years ago, the company was granted permission to expand its bauxite pond area and to raise the height of the dry-stacked red mud, despite objections from individuals and the local community.

However, a local farmer’s action group has brought the matter to the attention of the European Commission, arguing that the material should be classified as hazardous waste.

In 2010, a similar plant in Hungary, albeit one which stored the bauxite differently, had a spillage resulting in several deaths, and hundreds of people injured, when a dam broke destroying towns and villages.

The disaster also caused widespread pollution along the Danube.

Afterwards, Aughinish Alumina, which employs 440 people, said there was no danger of any spillage from its bauxite residue pile as it treats it in a totally different manner.

Aughinish Alumina is Europe’s largest alumina refinery, producing more than 1.6 million tonnes of alumina every year.

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency said it was satisfied with the design of the bauxite pond structures are in keeping with best international practice.

However, Mr Long said Ireland was witnessing increased incidents of flooding in recent years, along with mudslides or landslides.“I accept that there are safety measures at Aughinish but I want to know if they are sufficient to take on Mother Nature,” he said.

“We should be looking at a concerted effort, including the company, to a phased-in plan to remove this waste.”

Mr Long said this would create hundreds of jobs. He acknowledged Aughinish was a “stable provider of jobs”.

He added: “I think we can work together to eliminate any potential environmental hazards.”

Mr Long is to bring a motion before Limerick City Council “calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out an inspection on the deposition of bauxite (red mud) at the Rusal’s Plant, Askeaton, Co Limerick.”

The company said it had “no comment to make”.