Open Letter on Pollution from Base Metal Smelters

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

February 21, 2005

The Honourable Stephane Dion
Minister of the Environment
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Fax: 819-953-3457

The Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh
Minister of Health
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Fax: 613-952-1154

The Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of State for Public Health
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Fax: 613-948-8445

Dear Ministers:

re: Pollution from Base Metal Smelters

We, the undersigned, are representatives of Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations engaged in consultations with Environment Canada and Health Canada over the pollution prevention planning strategy being proposed under CEPA 99 for the Base Metals Sector. We are requesting a meeting with you and your staff to provide an opportunity to fully discuss this matter and hear our perspectives.

Smelters in Canada continue to be a major source of pollution to air, lands and water. In the 2002 National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), the three largest emitters of CEPA toxics to air in Canada were Base Metal Smelters – Inco Copper Cliff, Inco Thompson, Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting – and the BMS sector in total produced more than 26% of all CEPA toxics releases to air reported in Canada. The HudBay Minerals smelter in FlinFlon is the largest point source of mercury emissions to air in Canada (over 1340 kg annually).

Over the years, although many smelters have reduced their emissions by the construction of sulphuric acid plants and the introduction of other technologies in the face of legislated limits, base metal smelters remain the single largest source of sulphur dioxide emissions in Canada as well as mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, beryllium and nickel.

The human toll from these emissions is very disturbing for a country with an “advanced” economy. Workers and community members in Sudbury, Thompson, Rouyn, Flin Flon, Trail and other smelter towns have elevated rates of asthma, cancer and other pollutant related ailments. The legacy from these smelters will live on in the soil and water and in people’s DNA long after the emitters are closed. In economic terms, the costs for remediation, health care and lost opportunities for other development are staggering.

Despite the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA 99) which names “emissions from smelters” as a substance of concern, and the clear CEPA-toxicity of substances like mercury and arsenic, the response from your Ministry appears to have been diluted by the industry argument that protecting health will result in lost jobs in smelter communities.

In fact, at this time, Canada’s base metal smelters are enjoying greatly increased profitability because of rising commodity prices. It is the ideal moment to require that the dividend from these profits be spent to protect the health of the very workers and communities that have produced it and sustained this industry over the past several decades.

Environment Canada proposes to reduce smelter emissions through Pollution Prevention (P2) Planning, an instrument under CEPA 99 for the management of toxic substances. This instrument is not regulatory in nature. The proposed Notice on P2 planning for this sector lists targets and limits for emission reductions that are factors for consideration by facilities, in other words, not enforceable. Most of the targets in the Notice are inadequate to realize any significant reductions in the next 10 years. The limits for CEPA-toxic metals are to be set by the companies through a Code of Practice, not by your Ministry. Although regulation of limits is proposed for 2015, it is not clear how the commitments made in the plan can be enforced.

The only way to stop the destructive emissions from these smelters is to force technological change through regulation. Even some of the industry actors are asking that a level playing field be created through regulation. Repeated studies have shown that voluntary initiatives to protect the environment and human health only work when they are backed up by enforcement and penalties for non-compliance.

The metals industry in Canada is going through changes in practices, ownership and management. It is essential that federal government action take into account the ramifications of these changes and anticipate and bring in the measures needed to ensure that facilities in the Base-Metals Sector across Canada utilize the best technology and preventative measures available in the world.

Minister Dion has recently proposed the goal of developing a competitive economy anchored by a sustainable environment whose objective is “to attain the highest levels of environmental quality as a means to enhance the well-being of Canadians, preserve our natural environment and advance our long-term competitiveness”. How does that goal fit with the present status of the Base Metals sector?

The extent of the health and environmental impacts of these CEPA-toxic substances and the overall role of the Base Metal sector as a major contributor to these emissions make it extremely important to achieve meaningful reductions in a timely fashion at those facilities with the weakest environmental performance and the largest emissions as a first priority. If the current consultation process, the Base Metals Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group (BEMAG) process that was set up to deal with these issues, can not deliver significant reductions of the largest sources of CEPA toxics emissions in the country in a timely fashion, then the effectiveness of CEPA as a tool to manage toxic substances will be seriously undermined.

Finally, in recognizing the nature of the business in this sector and their role in the communities as a major employer, it behoves the industry and all levels of governments (federal, provincial and regional) to ensure that measures are taken to creatively address the interests and needs of the affected communities. The use of just-transition programs and community reinvestment funds can counter the employment impacts on these communities of the potential closure of facilities or down sizing as technologies change. No person should be forced to work in an environment which endangers their health and the health of their families because of economic constraints or threats to their livelihood.

We can and must do better as a society. We urge you to use the tools at your disposal to force change on the largest emitters of CEPA toxics in Canada.

We look forward to hearing your response to our request for a meeting.

Anna Tilman
STORM Coalition

Ken Traynor, Researcher
Canadian Environmental Law Association

Joan Kuyek
MiningWatch Canada