Four Corners - Something in the Air
For more than a century the hamlet of Yarloop, in the south of Western Australia, has lived off the bounty of its soil. Its majestic jarrah forests made it one of the world’s great timber centres; its pastures nourish a thriving beef and dairy industry. Now some people fear that the earth may hold the seeds of Yarloop’s demise. Under the ground in the nearby Darling Ranges sit vast deposits of bauxite which are dug up and fed into a huge refinery as part of the cycle to make aluminium.
This process, it is claimed, has been poisoning people in Yarloop. Some residents have complained of nosebleeds, sore eyes and throat, skin ulcers and rashes, lethargy and nausea. Others have had worse symptoms: impaired speech, blackouts and palpitations. They jab the finger of blame at the refinery that dominates Yarloop’s landscape and economy – and at the refinery’s owner, the Alcoa company.
Alcoa admits chemical fumes from its refinery used to be an irritant to local people’s health, but insists that problem was fixed by a refurbishment long ago.
The plant is safe, says Alcoa. Alcoa has its backers in Yarloop but some people find it hard to believe what the company says. These include former Alcoa workers who have suffered permanent health damage and been forced into retirement. Alcoa gave them payouts but denies liability.
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