Opinion: Ferrochrome plant needs public awareness

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So you may have seen our story on November 6 that the community is entering the next phase to secure a ferrochrome processing plant.

I know your first thought is probably jobs. And rightfully so. Industry drives jobs. Jobs drive the economy. And so on. I am not against more jobs in the Sault. I just wish it were something else than another heavy industry. With our cancer and autism rates being as high as they are in the Sault, I don’t think I am out of line in being concerned for the well-being of the workers, our citizens and the environment. Because when I read about what mining reports are saying about ferrochrome plants, I get concerned.

Mining Watch Canada warns us of this: “Soil, sediment, water and air can all become contaminated with chromium through industrial activities. Dust from industry operations such as mining and smelting settles out of the air, polluting soils and surface water. Most soluble chromium eventually settles onto sediment. Contamination of soil, surface and groundwater can also occur through release of industrial waste-water and leaching of soluble Cr-VI compounds from wastes such as mine tailings, waste rock, dust and slag piles.”

To make ferrochrome, chromite ore is mined, crushed and processed to produce chromite concentrate. To create ferrochrome, chromite concentrate is combined with a reductant (coke, coal, charcoal or quartzite) in a high temperature submerged arc furnace or direct current arc furnace.

The same report warns again: “Ferrochrome production emits air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides and sulfur oxides and particulate dusts that contain heavy metals such as chromium, zinc, lead, nickel and cadmium. During the high temperature smelting of chromite ore, some Cr-III is converted to toxic Cr-VI, contaminating the dust. Prior to smelting, steps employed in some processes, such as milling and agglomeration (i.e. sintering) may also produce Cr-VI. Due to the leaching potential of these contaminants, ferrochrome arc furnace dust is categorized as toxic waste in Canada (waste K091) and must be treated before disposal in order to prevent leaching toxins into the environment. Health risks via inhalation are also a concern.”

The Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation received a package from Noront Resources Inc. seeking information on the city’s interest in hosting the facility.

“With our strategic location, transportation infrastructure, talent and other competitive advantages, we’re making the case that our community is the prime site to host this project,” said Dan Hollingsworth, Executive Director of Business Development for the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation. “We look forward to working with our partners on preparing a response that exceeds Noront’s expectations.”

With Hollingsworth serving as the Project Lead, a team has been assembled to gather information and reply to this request with Al Horsman, Chief Administrative Officer with the City of Sault Ste. Marie; Tom Vair, Deputy CAO of Community Development and Enterprise Services with the City of Sault Ste. Marie; and Nevin Buconjic, Manager of Trade Investment & Community Marketing for the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation.

It was also said that expert resources and partners will be brought in to assist the project team in developing Sault Ste. Marie’s response as well as Indigenous communities. Community forums will be organized to provide an opportunity to share information and obtain feedback on this initiative.

“We’ve put together a strong project team and are committed to a thorough and thoughtful process,” said Mayor Christian Provenzano. “We will work hard to assess this opportunity and construct a compelling response that our community can be proud of and support. This will require working with our First Nation neighbours, community stakeholders and a broad and substantive community engagement.”

With all that being said, I am glad that there is going to be community involvement in the action so that we can have a better, well-rounded view of what this means to the community.

The need for greater understanding of chromium toxicity continues to spur research and in turn, new regulations. For example, in 2006 the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) substantially reduced its permissible exposure limit for Cr-VI in air due to recent research. The Ontario Ministry of Environment updated their original (1996) Site Standards for soil and groundwater in 2009, which substantially lowered the allowable amounts of total chromium in soil, Cr-VI in subsurface soil, total chromium in non-potable groundwater and Cr-VI in potable groundwater. Standards were also created for soil and groundwater within 30 m of a surface water body. Canada and California’s maximum contaminant levels for total chromium in drinking water (50 ug/L) are half that of the US EPA standards (100 ug/L). Canada and the USA do not currently have separate drinking water standards for Cr-VI, but the American EPA is in the process of evaluating Cr-VI oral exposure (ingestion) for carcinogenicity. California has recently reduced the public health goal for Cr-VI in drinking water in order to protect of more sensitive subgroups (fetuses, newborns, and people with low stomach acidity).

It is such a concern actually that Public Health Ontario released a document on ferrochrome production because on an inquest into its relation to health concerns.

“Ferrochrome production is an activity that has been associated with significant worker exposures. Dusts and other particles are generated from multiple stages in production, with the electric arc furnace accounting for over 90 per cent of total particulate emissions in the ferroalloy industry. Carbon monoxide and organic emissions can also be released by furnaces.”

It goes on to conclude that “A comprehensive health and environmental impact assessment prior to the initiation of any chromite mining and processing can review discharges to the environment and potential pathways of exposure for workers and members of the public. Specific mitigation and control strategies can be then employed to ensure that objectives related to protection of human health and the environment are met.”

Please let’s weigh the options before we go ahead with this project.

9 COMMENTS

  1. And when do they care about our health issues & concerns – it’s only corporate greed and government lies. It makes a few people rich and a few people look good for political reasons only.

  2. Well I suppose this city can continue on the economic slide we are on now which the results are homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, overdoses, suicides, hopeless people and generations of families on welfare….yup we don’t need no more stinking jobs because we are a welfare state, so let’s start a protest and oust this terrible idea job growth.

  3. As much as this city needs jobs….well-paying jobs….I would want guarantees, in writing, that Noront or whoever would be building and operating this plant would go above and beyond government regulations and safeguards environmentally and health-wise. And that they would be responsible for any cleanup. The Soo doesn’t need another entity that walks away from a site and doesn’t allow environmental testing as a condition of sale of that abandoned site like the tank farm.

  4. I see having the smelter as an excellent chance for our local environmental sector to get more involved and to expand, in order to ensure strict air, water, and soil monitoring. Companies such as GHD and Pinchin could play an important part in ensuring the citizens are protected. Hopefully Noront would act responsibly, unlike the cities other “heavy industry”.

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