Start of the fight : 07/03/2017

Since 1894, in Gardanne (Bouches-du-Rhône) take place one of the world’s first alumina production plants. This chemical compound is extracted from bauxite (a sedimentary rock) and is used to produce aluminum. The process for isolating alumina from bauxite generates two types of waste: process wastewater and Bauxite residues. This waste, called “Red Mud”, is charged with polluting substances (aluminum, iron, arsenic …), harmful for human health and the environment.

The “red sludge” produced at Gardanne, in the ALTEO alumina production plant, is transported and discharged in the sea, offshore Cassis, into the Cassidaigne canyon at a depth of 320 meters.

The Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean (1976) and the creation of the Calanques National Park (2012) compelled ALTEO to stop its solid discharges on 31 December 2015. This date also corresponded to the end of the authorizations of occupation of the maritime public domain for the operator.

To continue the operation, ALTEO has installed three filter presses to treat and dry solid residues. Nevertheless, several questions remain concerning liquid discharge, its harmfulness to humans, its impact on the environment and its dilution in the environment. Although the quantities of pollutants are greatly reduced, they remain however higher than the thresholds imposed by the regulations; in particular for six parameters: pH, Arsenic, Aluminum, Iron, BOD, COD. In December 2015, the Préfet of the Bouches-du-Rhône gives permission to ALTEO to continue its operation by modifying the nature of the discharge at sea (passage from a muddy discharge to a purely liquid discharge), and gives a derogation from the Barcelona Convention provisions (concerning the 6 parameters above) for 6 years allowing it to comply with the standards. Standards defined 20 years ago … !!!

Moving from a solid release to a liquid discharge is a positive point because it reduces the suffocation of the seabed. However, the actual composition of the liquid discharge remains unknown, and the fact that this release is liquid poses the question of the dilution and propagation of pollutants in the environment. A report by ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) highlights the risk of introducing these materials (Aluminum, Iron, Arsenic, etc.) into the food chain. Human health and fishing activity may be threatened.

Surfrider Foundation Europe does not ask the closure of the Alteo-operated alumina plant in Gardanne, but the compliance with the European (Barcelona Convention) and French (Decree of 2 February 1998 on water withdrawals and consumption as well as emissions of all kinds of installations classified for the protection of the environment (ICPE) subject to authorization) concerning the protection of the Mediterranean Sea.

On the 25th of January, 2019, the judge decided to reject the Alteo demand in appeal. So, the judge confirms the first decision. It’s a second victory for us. Now, we just wait and see for the application of this decision.


Le Gardien

Sarah from the Mediterranean office of Surfrider Foundation Europe



1894: First commissioning of the Gardanne alumina plant;

1963/1964: The project of rejection of red mud at sea takes shape. The Mayor of Cassis municipality, the famous biologist Alain Bombard, the oceanographer Gérard Rivoire and many others stand against this;

1967: First discharges of red mud into the Cassidaigne canyon;

1995: Mrs Corinne Lepage, then Environment Minister, gives the operator until 31 December 2015 to stop discards (implementation of the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution adopted in Barcelona in 1976 And strengthened in 1995);

May 2014: Rather than considering a solution to halt discharges, ALTEO asked for permission to continue to discharge the liquid part of the red mud at sea (the solid part was separated using press filters and upgraded in Bauxaline ®). Aluminum Pechiney, the owner of the pipeline, is asking for a new 30-year concession to the prefecture;

September 8, 2014: The Board of Directors of the Calanques Parc Give the departure if a committee independent about monitoring of the discharges is created and a study of the condition of the pipe is led;

September 19, 2014: The Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal commissioned three third-party experts. The BRGM, IFREMER and ANSES are invited to express their views on the subject. The BRGM concluded that ALTEO’s press filter treatment is “the only operational solution at the end of 2015 Which does not question the continuity of the industrial activity “. The conclusions of IFREMER and ANSES highlight the lack of knowledge to decide and recommend in-depth expertise. The reports are available on the following pages: BRGM report ; ANSES report ; IFREMER report.

April 7, 2015: After the conclusions of the scientific assessments, Ms Royal halted the public inquiry about the ALTEO projects and requested further analyzes from ANSES to assess the health risks incurred by the population living near the storage site of Mange-Garri. The ANSES conclusions do not clearly define the problem but highlight the lack of transparency in the documents provided by ALTEO and some inconsistencies in the modeling of the atmospheric dispersion of dust. 2nd ANSES report ;

August 7 to September 25, 2015: Public inquiry relating to the modification of the operating conditions of the Gardanne alumina plant and the renewal of the Public Maritime Domain occupancy concession;

4 December 2015: The Departmental Council for the Environment, Health and Technological Risks (CODERST) favourable opinion to continuing the discharge of liquid effluents from the ALTEO plant in Gardanne;

22 December 2015: The Supreme Council for the Prevention of Technological Risks (CSPRT) gives its opinion in favor of ALTEO’s request for authorization (CSPRT opinion).

December 28, 2015: The prefect of Bouches-du-Rhône authorizes ALTEO GARDANNE to make substantial modifications to the operation of its alumina manufacturing plant aimed at ceasing the discharge at sea of ​​manufacturing residues while maintaining the release of a residual liquid effluent. The decree grants ALTEO 6 years to improve the quality of its releases and to comply with the Barcelona Convention.

On the night of March 8-9, 2016: Breakdown of a pressurized ground pipeline and pollution of 35 hectares around the plant, of which 15 were very affected. The accident resulted in the loose of approximately 15m³ material. For Ségolène Royal, “this leak confirms the dilapidation of part of the treatment facilities“; 

31 March 2016: Establishment of the CSIRM, the Committee on Surveillance and Information on Releases at Sea (Creation order of the CSRIM)

June 21, 2016: ALTEO is in default for non-compliance with the regulatory limit values ​​of its releases. The operator has two months to comply with the standards and comply with the thresholds specified in the prefectoral decree of 28 December 2015 (Formal notice issued).

23 June 2016: Surfrider Foundation Europe integrates the CSIRM (Monitoring and Information Committee on Releases at Sea) as an observer.

05 January 2017: SFE publishes a press release informing of its appeal against the exemption granted to Alteo and thus pushing it to put in place an alternative solution. Le Monde is talking about it! For more information on the history of red mud discharges at the Gardanne plant, we invite you to consult the complete history published by MEDIAPART.

Chronologie des faits

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