The Age of Aluminum 2013
Distributed by The Video Project, PO Box 411376, San Francisco, CA 94141-1376; 800-475-2638
Produced by Langbein & Partner Media GmbH & Co
Directed by Bert Ehgartner
DVD , color, 88 min.
Ecology, Environmental Justice, History of the Environment, Neurotoxins, Cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, Medicine
Date Entered: 01/02/2014Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach
Since it became cheap enough to produce in larger quantities in the 20th century, aluminum has become ubiquitous—in soda cans, construction material, underarm deodorant, sunscreen, toothpaste, heartburn tablets, cookware and so much more. At nearly every stage of the production process—from mining and its energy-intensive production to consumption and recycling—aluminum leaves behind a toxic footprint. This documentary examines aluminum as a “universal toxin” that may be responsible for a host of illnesses and neurological disorders. The film is based on the filmmaker’s book, entitled Dirty Little Secret – The Aluminum Files.
The documentary begins with an arresting image of a woman with a mastectomy exiting a shower. That image sets up the central premise of the film: the claim that aluminum may be the underlying cause of cancer, as well as a variety of other scourges. The largest deposits of bauxite, which contains the aluminum ore, are in Brazil’s rainforest, six meters below the forest floor. The method of extracting the bauxite is crude and simple: the aluminum companies simply bulldoze the forest. The extraction of aluminum from bauxite ore is a highly toxic process that produces far more toxic sludge than aluminum. It also consumes massive quantities of energy; the smelting of aluminum requires ten times the amount of energy as the smelting of steel.
The film juxtaposes high praises for aluminum’s role in the many amenities of modern life with the unstated downside, the dirty little secret, as the book that inspired this film put it. The film returns frequently to the young woman who has had a mastectomy, and who blames it on the use of antiperspirants with aluminum, or to the middle-aged man with Alzheimer’s who may have contracted the disease from the heartburn tablets he frequently ingested. One scientist explains that aluminum is the only metal that no biochemical organism uses—In any way. The explanations for the toxicology and the production process of aluminum are clear and accessible to laypeople.
It is clear that the filmmaker has no doubt about aluminum’s toxic impact on modern life, and perhaps for good reason, as the noted toxicologists and other assembled experts suggest throughout the film. But perhaps the most challenging, and interesting, aspect of the film is the appearance of dueling experts—highly trained scientists on both sides of the issue. Suspiciously, of course, the experts who deny aluminum’s toxicity tend to be in the hire of the aluminum industry; and even more suspiciously they suggest that those who complain about health problems related to aluminum are seeking compensation—thus casting doubt, supposedly, on the veracity of their claims. So who is to be believed? As with so many other toxic chemical controversies in modern life, it often seems impossible to maintain an objective position. Even science, a supposed bastion of objectivity, seems to be tainted by the bias of the scientist – or rather, of the people who fund scientific research. The film notes that much of the money to fund research into the possible toxic qualities of aluminum has disappeared. As a result, aluminum advocates can claim that there is no compelling evidence showing adverse effects of aluminum on human health. Still, at least as presented here, the experts who have conducted studies and who argue for the toxic impact of aluminum seem far more convincing. This reviewer, for one, will now be reading all labels carefully and avoiding any products, in the kitchen or bathroom, that contain aluminum.
The film comes in two versions: 90 minutes and a shorter 52 minutes.