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Environmental groups say either this Indiana aluminum plant cleans up its act or they'll sue

Two environmental groups say if an Indiana aluminum smelter doesn’t clean up its act — they’ll sue. The Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project announced their intent to sue the Alcoa Warrick smelter for water pollution violations on Tuesday.

The notice gives the company 60 days to stop putting more pollution in the Ohio River than its permit allows or the groups will file suit.

The groups say the Warrick plant has had more than a hundred water violations in the past five years — including releasing more mercury than allowed at least 30 times. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can build up in fish in the river — poisoning birds and people that eat them.

“So it really is a domino effect where it makes the river less usable for fish, for birds and for people," said Meg Parish, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

Some cities downstream from the plant — like Evansville — get their drinking water from the Ohio River. Officials with Evansville Water and Sewer Utility said it routinely tests for mercury, but it’s usually undetected or at very low levels — likely because mercury is much more dense than water and the utility’s intake is several feet from the bottom of the river.

The environmental groups said the plant has also exceeded limits for aluminum, chlorine, copper, fluoride, nickel, zinc and the acidity of its discharges.

EIP researcher and policy analyst Nadia Steinzor said, as a global company, Alcoa has set stringent sustainability goals for itself.

“So we'd like to see those goals implemented at the Warrick facility. There's no reason they shouldn't be making the same effort for the people of Indiana that they're doing for the people of other countries where they have smelters," she said.

In a statement, Alcoa Corporation said it’s committed to complying with all legal requirements. "We consistently work with regulatory authorities in a transparent manner," it read.

READ MORE: The U.S. needs it for a green economy, but aluminum isn't very green.

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Aluminum will likely play a bigger role in the U.S. as the country transitions to a greener economy. It's used to make things like electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels.

Alcoa Warrick emits the fifth most greenhouse gases of any industrial facility in the state.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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