Icelandic Culture: Environmental Concern Over Aluminum Smelting (Listen)

We’ve had a great time covering Iceland Airwaves and discovering and reporting on Icelandic culture. Here’s an Icelandic cultural interview culled from our time there. Be sure to stay tuned for our final radio documentary, which will air on WCRX-FM 88.1. Visit our Iceland Airwaves blog to read/hear more from our time in Iceland.

Aluminum production is Iceland’s highest export and counts for one-seventh of their economic output. The industry is a fundamental part of Iceland’s economy, but not everyone can enjoy its benefits without issue. Aluminum smelting facilities give off several different types of pollution, from greenhouse gas to potentially harmful dust residue in surrounding areas.

Several farms located nearby smelting facilities in Iceland have issued complaints against them due to what they say are problems with vegetation and livestock. Ragnheidur Thorgrimsdottir is one farm owner who complained of her issues with fluoride buildup on her horses grazing area, which she says has caused premature death, inability to reproduce and general unhealthiness in her horses. Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir, a team leader at the Environmental Agency of Iceland said that these grounds have been tested, and the results do not match the Agency’s predictions.

There are policies in place to keep the pollution emitted by these aluminum smelting facilities in check. Set limitations allow levels of pollution that should theoretically keep the surrounding area free of damaging effects.  Kristjánsdóttir and her team enforce these limitations, and they are under 24-hour scrutiny.

Because levels of fluoride have exceeded the allotted amount, the Icelandic government has issued tests almost immediately to gain control over the situation. According to Arnar Þór Jónsson, an assistant law professor at Reykjavik University, the Icelandic government characteristically will stand behind its people if there is valid concern, even when policies are set in place by their own legislation.

Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk also seized the opportunity to spread her message to the masses about aluminum smelting’s lasting damaging effects and that they are replacing other traditionally-valued industries in Iceland, such as fishing. Along with Icelandic electronic band Sigur Rós, she held a concert to raise awareness and also produced a documentary detailing her concerns. Here’s Kristjánsdóttir again.

Here in the United States, other artists have used this method to share environmental concerns as well. In a North American tour earlier this year, Neil Diamond spent a portion of his show condemning the movement to mine tar sands in Canada for oil, which is far more costly and harmful than typical oil-drilling processes. As Kristjánsdóttir said, the environment’s health is a worldwide issue and not local to pollutant producers alone, so each country must do its part and spread the word.

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One thought on “Icelandic Culture: Environmental Concern Over Aluminum Smelting (Listen)”

  1. Very informative posts. Your description of Ice Land, the people , the music and the food was extremely vivid. What an opportunity of a lifetime.

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