This is more information about the proposed ferrochrome production facility in the Soo. The bulk of this information comes from an article entitled “Can’t compare smelters, Sudbury crowd told”, in the March 22, 2018 edition of The Sudbury Star. The Sault Star has so far refused to allow legitimate concerns about the smelter to be printed, so please share this information as much as possible so that the community is more informed about the potential dangers involved.
The proposed Noront ferrochrome production plant will produce thousands of tons of toxic waste contaminated with hexavalent chromium (chromium 6) which is a known genotoxic carcinogen. Inhalation of ferrochrome furnace dust increases the risk of squamous cell cancer of the lung and ingestion of contaminated water is associated with cancers of the oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract. Chromium 6 can also cause ulcerations of the stomach and bowel, damage to the nasal epithelium and skin and toxicity to the liver.
The Oscar-winning movie “Erin Brockovich” starring Julia Roberts documented the true story of a class-action lawsuit over the devastating health effects of chromium 6 on the town of Hinkley, California. The resultant settlement of $333 million was the biggest for a direct-action lawsuit in US history. The last claim was settled in 2008. Hinkley remains a toxic virtual ghost town today, its groundwater still contaminated.
Last year Noront Resources selected Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, Timmins and Thunder Bay as final candidates for the site of the proposed smelter. Sudbury sent a delegation including the mayor of Sudbury, a council member, and the chief of Wahnapitae First Nation to Tornio, Finland, site of the Outukumpu ferrochrome production plant, whose technology is the same as what Noront is proposing. As in the Soo, the mayor of Sudbury enthusiastically backed the plant but a large group of activists organized protests against locating the plant in Sudbury. Noront said the community of Sudbury didn’t “buy-in” and that “the smelter won’t go where it’s not wanted”. Sudbury essentially said no to the ferrochrome plant.
At the invitation of some of those concerned citizens, Tom Price, a retired engineer who had set up the world’s first chrome recycling plant in Pennsylvania, hosted an educational presentation in Sudbury in March 2018 on the Tornio plant in Finland (when Sudbury was still in the running).
Price noted that the first thing that struck him was the fact that no one in Tornio lived within 2.5 km of the chrome plant. The proposed site for the Soo is west of the steel plant well inside city limits. Noront has stated that it wants the smelter inside the city as that “will reduce overall smelter costs by one third”. How many Saultites live directly downwind (east) of the proposed smelter site? Despite the latest technologies in the Outukumpu plant, land around Tornio was contaminated with chromium 6 (along with nickel, lead and vanadium, all toxic heavy metals) by air emissions more than 3 km downwind. Tornio is by the sea so it has a lot of fog and a lot of rain, more than we get here. Particulate matter (chromium 6 dust) gets picked up by fog and rain and drops down rapidly, within a couple of kilometres. Here in the Sault, the fine particles of chromium 6 will be dry and will travel a lot farther and contaminate a much larger area.
In Tornio the smelter is on an ocean-side peninsula. Each year a quarter tonne of effluent waste from the arc furnace, which contains chromium 6, is washed away and dissipates in the ocean. The Tornio plant draws 24 million cubic metres of water per year from nearby rivers as a once-through cooling medium and then dumps it into the sea. The seas around Finland (the Gulf of Bothnia) are among the worst polluted with toxins in the world. Is the Noront plant planning to use the St. Mary’s River the same way? If not, they are going to have to redesign their cooling system and effluent disposal system.
Price says that Noront will need to develop better ways of dealing with toxic waste than Outukumpu has. Once fully operational, Price estimates 110 tons of emission per year will be released into the air. These airborne emissions will contain chromium 6 (despite the measures employed by Outukumpu), as well as nickel, lead and vanadium. 20,000 tonnes per year of contaminated waste will need to be dumped somewhere. Probably it will end up in tailings ponds. Predictably these will leak and some amount of chromium 6 will end up in the groundwater, just a matter of how much.
The ferrochrome plant will be brutal for the roads in and around the city. There will be 234 incoming trucks every day carrying heavy loads of ore from the Ring of Fire. Outgoing there will be 167 trucks per day carrying slag, waste and ferrochrome (much to Pittsburgh). Overall more than 400 heavy trucks battering the city’s roads every day may even make Bay St. circa 2019 seem good.
There needs to be an arduous environmental assessment process before this project gets going. Our mayor and city government need to be assertive and demand this environmental assessment be set up and demand that Noront Resources explain the details about how it plans to address the legitimate concerns outlined above.