Millroy: I am not about to jump on that complaint wagon.


There is some unrest growing in the community over council’s decision to endorse the establishment of a ferrochrome smelter in Sault Ste. Marie, the indication being that even some doctors might consider leaving the city if the project comes to fruition.

I am not about to jump on that complaint wagon.

An initial introductory community consultation is set for Oct. 23, which will give area residents a chance to meet officials of Noront Resources and to hear how the company’s  plan to bring chromite mined from the Ring of Fire’s Blackbird chromite deposit to the Sault for processing
will unfold.

I trust the meeting will also address environmental concerns, specifically as to what effect the smelter will have on air and water quality in the area.

This is what I have found missing in the process so far.

I have seen nothing from Noront about how the community will be affected environmentally.
On the other hand, I have seen nothing from those who are against the facility in the way of problems in other centres they have uncovered through their research.

So far all I see are complaints that the smelter is coming.

I think it is incumbent on those on both sides to provide some links to the information on which they are basing their arguments.

Mayor Christian Provenzano says he would not support a plant that is shown to be dangerous and I believe him. I don’t think anyone on council would support it.

But the mayor said comparing a Noront Resources ferrochrome facility with that in Tornio, Finland, as is being done, is like comparing apples to oranges. He said the Finland facility is a decades-old plant that does not use newer technologies expected to be installed here.

Yet an entirely different view came out of Sudbury, which lost out in its bid for the smelter.
Mayor Brian Bigger travelled to Europe earlier this year to check out the Outokumpu ferrochrome production facility in Tornio and following his visit told reporter Mary Katherine Keown of The Sudbury Star that he had no concerns about the safety or health impacts of an arc furnace.

“That’s the level of confidence I wanted to come back with, with the entire team,” Bigger said. “We asked questions of all of the people we met, looking for any concerns whatsoever on their part. We found none. On my part, I have full confidence in welcoming a ferrochrome facility into our community. I think it’ll go well with our plans to diversify our economy and attract investment to create jobs. It fits in with the long-term strategy of growing our community.”

That from someone who has been there and seen first-hand how things are.

I would suggest our council send some people on a similar fact-finding mission to give us the straight facts of how things are.

The facility may be old, but according to Bigger everything is fine. I think the people in this community may have a better sense of their safety if they heard the same thing from their own officials.

And, to further the credibility of the results of the trip, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have some representation on it from those who are leading the protests.

Keown quoted Ugo Lapointe, a spokesperson for MiningWatch Canada, as saying no ferrochrome plant is totally safe, no mining process 100% clean.

“There will always be some level of pollution,” he said. “It’s always a challenge for proponents to control the dust emissions from the various operations, as well as the stack emissions.”
He said hexavalent chromium, which is produced during the smelting process, is “very toxic,” .
“It’s in the same category as asbestos, for example, or tobacco or things like that.”
A review published by Elsevier Ltd. said an assessments of all process steps associated with conventional ferrochrome production indicated that smelting will lead to the formation of unintended small amounts of Cr(VI), irrespective of the technology applied.

“However,” Elsevier said, “this review proved that it will be possible to produce ferrochrome without causing occupational/community health issues related to Cr(VI), as well as environmental pollution, if appropriate preventative and mitigation measures are applied.”
The Deleware Health and Social Services Division of Public Health says breathing chromium (III) does not irritate the nose or mouth in most people and eating small amounts of chromium (III) is healthy but eating too much is harmful.

It said there is not enough data to know if any of the foregoing would cause cancer.

In regard to Chromium (VI), it said breathing chromium (VI) at high levels can irritate the nose and cause sneezing, itching, nosebleeds, ulcers and holes in the nasal septum. It can also cause asthma attacks in people who are allergic to chromium. Long-term exposure to high levels is linked to lung cancer. Breathing low levels of chromium (VI) for a short period does not cause health problems for most people.

The timeline for getting the Noront smelter into operation as reported earlier this year:
In 2020, there will be a preliminary economic assessment;
in 2022, Noront will prepare a prefeasibility study and negotiate an updated tenancy agreement;
in 2024, the focus will be on a feasibility study and environmental assessment, examining factors including meteorology, air quality, noise, vibration, light, geology, hydrology, geochemistry, terrestrial vegetation, wildlife, soil, aquatic environment, water, sediment quality and human impacts.

Construction will commence in 2025 with completion expected in 2028.

It is to be built on vacant Algoma Steel property within the city limits and close to the waters of Lake Superior, which probably is the cause of unrest in some people.

But this facility is going to go somewhere and I think we have to be careful to not be caught in the infamous “not in my backyard” syndrome.

The mayor says council will do its due diligence and require environmental assessment and ultimately protection.

I would like to see the environmental process moved up but I realize there is not all that much to go on as ferrochrome smelters are in short supply worldwide, this one being the first in North America.

Anyway, what I am trying to say here is that I am willing to see things shake down for some time before I would even begin to look for the panic button.

After all, I have to have some faith in council, even with their dereliction of duty in allowing to remain the ridiculous traffic pattern at Albert and East Streets the line-painters from Guelph gave us by mistake.


  1. Been researching if there actually was a ferrochrome smelter in Sault Ste Marie before and found this…apparently it’s parent company was Chromium Mining and Smelting Corporation Limited (now Timminco Metals):

    “The mill facility was not utilized during 1936 as activities were confined to construction and underground development. During this period approximately 4,235 tons of ore was mined underground from three open stopes on the 100-foot level and three shrinkage stopes on the 225 foot level. Of this, 198 tons of ore, along with approximately 223 tons which was mined from an open cut on surface, were shipped to a refining and smelting plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The average grade of the shipment was reported as 18 percent Cr2O3 (O.D.M. Statistical Review, 1937).”

    So we did have a ferrochrome smelter here before!

  2. As Tom Mill’s article states “If city council is still determined to punt this down the road, how about no farther than the next municipal election. Incumbent candidates can declare their support or opposition to a ferrochrome plant and leave this city-changing decision up to the voters.”

  3. All this excitement and they still don’t even have a road built to wherever the raw material is to come, I’m thinking this will wither on the vine as so many other get rich quick schemes often do. Any word on the last great idea? The deep water port? no? Nothing?

  4. Respectfully, you could simply say that you support the smelter, since that’s basically what I got from your entire column.

  5. Sault online already posted about an engineer going to Finland and saying that they have a different climate and sea water that is not comparable to North America. Even still with near perfect conditions and being 10 km outside the city there is still very high pollution and chromium levels are well above normal. Finland is not a decades old smelter either. The latest one which the engineer visited opened in 2013.

    Sorry I trust engineers before I trust Joe blow on Sault online or some internet blogger

  6. I’m pretty sure Sudbury rescinded their bid, they didn’t lose it

    “I think it is incumbent on those on both sides to provide some links to the information on which they are basing their arguments.”

  7. So if we all take a trip to one of these out of date old facility and get reassured that this one will be safer because it’s using technologies so new they can’t be researched to provide proof, we will be fine.

  8. “Complaint bandwagon.” The heading presupposes the conclusion, doctors and all those opposed are Chicken Littles who should shut up and trust in the process. Similar to other local reporters who have characterized opponents as NIMBY, misinformed, misguided, ostensibly dullards following the pack, Millroy offers pseudo-scientific opinions and platitudes rather than objective analysis. Of course, Millroy is not a scientist, and cannot be expected to understand the research and reasoning of doctors. Tom Mills excellent article warns us of the dangers of waiting years to find out about the environmental impact.

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