Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Alumina Dust Released by South Carolina Plant

Individuals living around the Mt. Holly Century Aluminum plant near Goose Creek, South Carolina indicate the area was covered in alumina dust because of repeated failures of the smelter's emission control system.

A group of South Carolina residents have filed a class action lawsuit against a local smelting plant, which they say belched clouds of toxic aluminum oxide particles, also known as alumina, when its emission control system frequently broke down.

Multiple times throughout 2023, residents who lived around the Mt. Holly Century Aluminum plant near Goose Creek, were exposed to clouds of alumina, which led to illnesses, property damage and permanent injuries, according to a complaint (PDF) filed on November 10 in South Carolina federal court.

The lawsuit, which names Century Aluminum Company and Century Aluminum of South Carolina, Inc. as defendants, claims the plant’s owners refused to fix an obvious problem, choosing instead to put profits ahead of residents’ health and safety.

Alumina Dust Exposure Risks

Aluminum oxide is a white, crystalline powder used in a number of materials, including ceramics, laboratory-grade equipment and paper, as well as in the manufacturing of aluminum itself.

Exposure can lead to skin and eye irritation from contact, and can irritate the nose, throat and lungs when inhaled, with a risk of permanent lung scarring from prolonged or repeated exposures, leading to pulmonary fibrosis.

Alumina dust exposure can also cause a condition known as “metal flame fever”, which is a flu-like illness that comes with a metallic taste in the mouth and lasts for one to two days.

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According to the alumina exposure lawsuit, the aluminum plant’s smelter began releasing heavy clouds of white powder in March and April of this year. The clouds were suspended in the air for long periods of time, and settled onto surfaces, damaging paints, finishes, lawns, and making both humans and pets ill.

This began to happen regularly starting in September, which the lawsuit indicates was the result of the plant’s emission system was malfunctioning. However, the owners continued to operate the plant, while failing to have the problem repaired or warn the community of the potential health risks.

“Rather than shut down the Smelter and stop the harmful particulate emissions, Defendants chose to continue operating the plant and emitting particulates,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants knew or learned from examination of the emissions control system that the filter bags were failing and that accelerated scale growth in the Smelter was causing increased pressure in the emissions control system and bag failure.”

Despite that knowledge, the incidents continued throughout the month, with the defendants promising to fix the problem by mid-October. However, the 15 plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit say the owners should have ceased operations until the problem was fixed, instead of continuing to operate, knowingly placing residents’ health at risk.

During and after the incidents, plaintiffs reported suffering irritation, itching, swelling, congestion, sinus issues, coughing, nose bleeds, headaches, shortness of breath, asthma and permanent lung injuries. As the dust settled onto properties, the particles also damaged finished and painted surfaces, such as homes and cars. The alumina was also inhaled and ingested by pets, who also became ill, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint seeks class action status to represent anyone who lived within seven miles of the facility from September 3, 2023, through September 30, 2023. They present claims of trespass, nuisance, negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and willful conduct, and negligence per se.


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