Getting Smelter Toxins Under Control

An open letter signed by over 20 environmental organizations was sent to the federal Environment and Health Ministers on February 21, 2005, demanding urgent action on toxins coming from smelters.

Smelters in Canada are 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 (now HudBay) - and the sector in total produced more than 26% of all CEPA toxics releases to air reported in Canada.

The HudBay Minerals smelter in Flin Flon is the largest point source of mercury emissions to air in Canada (over 1340 kilograms annually).

In the face of legislated limits, many smelters have reduced their emissions over the years by the constructing sulphuric acid plants and introducing new technologies. Despite this, base metal smelters remain the single largest source of sulphur dioxide emissions in Canada as well as mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, beryllium and nickel emissions.

Despite the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA ’99) which names “emissions from smelters” as a substance of concern, there is no federal regulation to enforce it.

INCO, HudBay and other companies are blocking progress on these issues, saying they cannot afford to make the necessary changes, and that protecting health will result in the smelters being closed.

However, 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. Both INCO and Sudbury are planning mine expansions at this time.

What is needed is tough regulation of smelters under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and the development of effective measures 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.

Despite this, 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 realise any significant reductions in the next 10 years. But even this measure is resisted by the companies.