Aluminum is everywhere. From airplanes to cooking pans, this versatile, light-weight metal has been around for generations. And its many benefits have made life easier and more convenient for millions of people. But a new documentary portrays what the filmmaker describes as the "dark side" of aluminum.
It’s in the cans we drink out of and in the products we like to cook with.
Aluminum is everywhere, including in products that make us feel better, safer and cleaner. Like antacids, sunscreen and antiperspirants.
But Austrian filmmaker Bert Ehgartner says there’s another side to aluminum. “It has a lot of good plus[es]. But there is also a dark side of this metal," he said.
Ehgartner explores that alleged "dark side" in his new film, The Age of Aluminum.
The documentary shows the mining and production of aluminum and its resulting impact on the environment.
One sees the mining of bauxite, an ore that contains a large amount of aluminum hydroxide, from a rainforest in Brazil. The film shows how large areas of rain forest have to be dug up in order to reach the bauxite.
The toxic waste from aluminum production is then discarded over vast areas.
And according to the film, the mining waste is apparently causing health problems for the nearby inhabitants who swim in the water, drink it and cook with it. The children complain of itchy skin and have developed blisters.
The film also includes footage of a 2010 accident at a Hungarian aluminum factory.
Ehgartner says aluminum is also making people sick, in other ways - through the very products that make life more convenient, and safer, for so many.
“I was surprised, for example, when I found it in vaccines or when I found it in certain kinds of cosmetics and antiperspirants, even in foods. You find it everywhere," he said.
Scientists in the film link aluminum found in those products to a wide variety of modern diseases, including breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, allergies and Autism.
Neuroscientist Dr. Christopher Shaw is particularly concerned about the link between aluminum, which can be found in drinking water and antacid medication, and Alzheimer’s, a fatal brain-wasting disease.
“Many researchers are beginning to accept that aluminum has some sort of role to play in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Whether it does in others is still an open question, but Alzheimer’s is really coming into focus and it's fairly clear that the body burden of aluminum from all the sources to which humans are exposed may be contributing to Alzheimer's disease," he said.
But not everyone agrees with those findings.
The Aluminum Association declined our request for an interview but issued the following statement:
The Age of Aluminum deviates from decades of mainstream scientific research and consensus. The weight of published scientific evidence demonstrates no direct causative link between aluminum and the illnesses depicted in the film.
“My first message would be don’t panic," said Melissa Perry, an epidemiologist at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
“The current status of the evidence does not give us definitive conclusions that aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s disease or other brain problems, or breast cancer. This means it’s critically important to conduct more human studies," she added.
More studies - that's a point on which even The Age of Aluminum filmmaker Bert Ehgartner agrees.
“So aluminum is really a threat for mankind and we don’t have enough research, and that’s one of the reasons why I made this film - to give support to the scientists who want to do more research. And I think it’s really necessary," he said.
Experts on both sides of the issue agree that aluminum is here to stay. They also agree that what is needed, at the very least, is more research to understand the link between aluminum and human health.