Ferrochrome plant – how it works in Finland. Letter to the Editor

Outokumpu Mill, Tornio, Finland
A part of the Outokumpu works in Röyttä, Tornio, Finland. Prominently featured in the photo is a new ferrochrome plant, probably not yet operational at the time the photo was taken. Oct. 15, 2012 by Mikko J. Putkonen.

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.

Peter Chow


  1. Chromite production is not currently viable at current prices. What Noront really wants is a road to access their Ni-Cu-Pt-Pd deposit in the Ring Of Fire, as do many First Nations people. The main source of Chromite in the world is from the Bushveld Igneous Comples in South Africa. A Chromite plant will not be built in Ontario unless there is the demand – and that may not happen for another 10 years.

    Just so that people have an appreciation of Noront, it is a “junior exploration company” with several discoveries in the Ring of Fire (Chromite, Ni-Cu-PGE, and Cu-Zn deposits). It trades at $0.22/share with a market capitalization of $80 M. It does not have deep pockets and would have to rely on the Federal and Provincial Governments along with involvement of a multi-national company like Glencore to develop the chromite mine, processing facility and ferrochrome plant. Please do not keep talking about Noront – they are trying to punch above their wright class.

    It’s best to not stir up emotions of the local population by doctors and academia making gross exaggerations based on historical processing facilities elsewhere in the world. If doctors and academia has such concerns about environmental pollution in Sault Ste. Marie, they should have never moved here.

  2. Perhaps the Sault Star is not publishing this as the information being circulated is not verified and not true preventing a slander suit. I know with my experience working in industries that emission standard are very high and have been at plants that were shut down due that emissions could not be met.

  3. If this ever materializes the population of this pitiful city will dwindle.
    The cancer rates are already ridiculously high.

  4. Anyone who is thinking of working at this toxic dump is going to be responsible for the pollution and cancers caused by the emissions being emitted into the air and environment at catastrophic speed. We should all gather together and protest this disgusting plant being built withing thirty miles of the Sault. This is why the owners of this smelter plant are offering wages starting at one hundred thousand dollars a year to future employees. Bribing people into killing themselves and destroying the landscape and water and air quality and causing innocent people to get sick due to their greed and negligence. The people who allow this to be built should be sent to prison for crimes against humanity. Only an idiot would think this is a good idea. And we all know how stupid many people prove themselves to be. I am not one of them. If this is built, I am moving as far away from this poisoned city as I can. The Steel Plant already stinks up the city with toxic fumes every single day. We don’t need another one.

  5. The naturally Gifted. Strike again. The braindead who vote for this deserve all the misfortune & health issues this will bring forth. It’s Darwinism in it’s finest form. Just remove all warning labels & let nature take it’s course. Remember the Best cure ever for anything is prevention. Preventative regular healthcare prevents. Having to resurrect the dead. Rock On MoRons

  6. Perhaps you’re not aware of the fact that the Outukumpu Ferrochrome Smelter located about 15 kilometers OUTSIDE OF Torino Finland is about 10 Kilometers away from ANY HUMAN because ALL Ferrochrome Smelters produce an UNAVOIDABLE cancer-causing by-product (Chromium VI) that enters the air (rainwater), and groundwater.

    And that’s why they have the Finnish Ferrrochrome Smelter 10 km away from ANY HUMAN as opposed to being on the edge of downtown Tornio (population 22,000)… so they can properly scrub it, and dilute it in tailings ponds without the Chromium VI that ALWAYS gets into the air, ground and water from the Ferrochrome Smelting LEAKAGE affecting any human.

    A Smelter location of 10 km away from any human works for Finland to protect 22,000 of their people from cancer.

    This plant will be located where there are approximately 50,000 Sault Citizens WITHIN 10 km of the Ferrochrome Smelting Plant.

    Cancer DEATHS of a significant number of everyday Sault citizens WHO DON’T WORK at this plant will be going up if this is Ferrochrome Smelter is located near the slag pits off of Base Line on the St. Mary’s River about 10 km away from PINE STREET

    Cancer caused by this ChromiumVI producing Ferrochrome Smelter located upwind of our downtown is a CERTAINTY.

    Ask Tornio Finlanders at the Outukumpu Headquarters.

    I’m offended that anyone would try to diminish the serious cancer concerns surrounding the placement of this new Ferrochrome Smelter inside our community for the next fifty years. I understand that feeding our families are extremely important, however, there are ways we can still get all of the jobs that this new smelter has to offer WITHOUT a single person getting cancer from this new plant.

    But that will require the owners to locate the Ferrochrome Smelter at least 10 km away from ANY HUMAN like they HAVE DONE IN FINLAND.

    Apparently NorOnt’s Mr. Coutts wants to do this Ferrochrome Smelter like they did it in Finland. He’s said as much many many times. Noront has also said that locating the smelter closer to the population heart of the city will cut operating costs by 1/3 !!

    Citizen Mark Brown

  7. Kind of hilarious really. Algoma Steel has all of the products mentioned in your article shipped in by the truck and train load daily. It is used in the steel making process. The sky is not falling.

    • Sault Michigan didn’t find it quite that hilarious with their exposure to chromium 6. Sault Michigan was a Superfund toxic waste site – contaminated by chromium 6 which is still present in the tap water. The property was owned by a subsidiary of Algoma Steel who built a wall to keep more toxic material from getting into the St Mary’s River. Tap water in Soo Michigan still has high levels of chromium 6.
      The 75-acre Cannelton Industries, Inc. site is located in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. A portion of the site is located within the 100-year floodplain of the St. Mary’s River. The Northwestern Leather Company operated a tannery and processed animal hides at the site from 1900 to 1958. Waste disposal operations contaminated soils, sediments and surface water in the St. Mary’s River with heavy metals, including chromium, lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.
      The site’s long-term remedy included the excavation and consolidation of contaminated waste material, soils and river sediments into an on-site landfill, collection and treatment of groundwater, groundwater monitoring, and land use restrictions for the landfilled area. Construction of the remedy took place in 1999. In 2006 and 2007, additional dredging operations removed 40,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, about 500,000 pounds of chromium and 25 pounds of mercury from Tannery Bay and nearby wetlands.

  8. Cancer rates in the Sault are higher than normal and this disastrous plan will be certain to cause a rapid decrease in the life span of local citizens. Then again you have the failed circus act running city council so what can you expect?

  9. People, this has bad bad bad written all over it. Protest this, unless you like family and friends dying. The Great Lakes and Sault Ste Marie does not need this!

  10. I said it before and I say it again….we are selling the lives of our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. Money isn’t life! You think Sault Ste. Marie is bad now with respect to the cancer rate….just wait. Foolish, foolIsh people!

  11. This is insanity. Among other things, what medical professional is going to want to move to Sault Ste. Marie after it has a chromite smelter????? NONE. So we are going to see cancer rates skyrocket at the same time we are bleeding doctors.

  12. Talk about the ones in Germany… World leaders in ferrochrome production… It’s so funny how people pick and choose what’s good and what’s bad for the environment, go to any local funeral home and see what goes down the drain.

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