“How can we allow a ferrochrome facility in a city that has already been flagged as one of five cities in Ontario with the highest rates of cancer?” Algoma University biologist Pedro Antunes asked a room-full of concerned citizens that attended a Ferrechrome Smelter Forum on Saturday morning at the Water Tower Inn’s Pavilion.
“Why produce it in the middle of the city?”
Antunes was one of many speakers at this forum, led by doctors and scientists as an information-session as well as a chance for people in the community to voice their concerns about the Noront plant, set to be built on Algoma Steel property starting in 2025, and up and running by 2028.
Other concerns included water pollution, environmental dangers, and overall health.
“We’ve been trying for two years, really, to get a robust, community conversation going about this, and we just thought it’s time to do it,” event co-organizer Peggy Lauzon told SaultOnline.
“We’d been thinking about it over the summer and we knew it would be better to do it in the fall, but a lot of things have kind of come together this week because we have the Climate Extinction Rebellions going on, at the same time the doctors’ letter came out (on Tuesday) – maybe it’s a perfect storm that a lot of people came out today, because it was just the right timing.”
Concerned citizens Angela Trudeau and Larry Pelchat were two of the many people who publicly voiced their concerns.
“I understand that jobs are important, but at what expense?” Trudeau said, speaking to SaultOnline.
She said giving a voice to the Indigenous community is important to her, and part of the reason she attended the forum.
“At the end of the day, it has to do with consent from the (Indigenous) communities,” she explained, saying that as a concerned citizen, she’s worried there’s not enough consultation with these communities and that they’re still waiting for Noront and the City to come to the table and have a discussion.
“When you invite partners in for a community meeting at a tribal level, that does not necessarily mean that we’re consenting,” she said. “We’re inviting you in to learn more information. At the end of the day, we will have a say in terms of if things move forward as a collective. Our leaders are driven by the collective.”
Pelchat, who previously worked at Algoma Steel, expressed concerns about health, talking about the friends he’s lost to cancer over the years.
“Friends of mine didn’t realize how dangerous the carcinogens they were breathing in were, and some of them aren’t alive anymore because of it,” he said to SaultOnline.
“I told (the crowd) that it may not matter to them in five, 10 or even 20 years from now, but when they come to enjoy retirement and do things like travel and see your grand kids and children grow up, they lose all of this opportunity because of ignorance. Simple as that.”
“Chromium is a carcinogen,” he continued, comparing it to asbestos and noting that Sudbury turned the facility down and that they have a higher cancer rate because of their nickle mine.
Pelchat said he’d like to see something green come in instead, such as electric cars, and “not these companies who are there for money,” as well as see the government put stricter fines on pollution so big companies would take it more seriously.
Next steps Saturday’s forum attendees suggested include:
- Prepare a fact sheet,
- A paper petition opposing the smelter to be circulated throughout the community,
- Keep in the loop by checking out the No Ferrochrome Plant Sault Ste. Marie Facebook page and/or by email,
- A letter campaign to elected officials,
- Support and engage with First Nations communities in the area, including Garden River, Batchewana and others along the North Shore, as well as Bay Mills and the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians,
- Demand a requirement for environmental assessments from provincial and federal environment ministers; and
- In a well-informed manner, attend Noront’s first public consultation to be held Oct. 23
Lauzon said she’d like to see a shift in the way Sault Ste. Marie thinks about itself in the future.
“I think that we have a long history of being a steel industry, and I honour that and I understand that that’s important, but think that what’s come of that is sometimes we need to think that we ourselves are able to do things,” she explained.
“Our community has experts and our people have good ideas, our people have entrepreneurs that work really hard to get things done, and I would love to see a shift in that where we had more faith in ourselves to create the future that we want.”
Notable people in attendance were Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, Sault NDP candidate Sara McCleary and Green Party candidate Geo McLean. However, event co-organizer Peter Greve said, there was a noticeable absence of many elected officials and young people.
As of Saturday, the online petition had over 7,500 signatures and many people in attendance signed a paper-copy that was passed around.