MAC: Mines and Communities

The World Unites Against Inco: Backgrounder

Published by MAC on 2002-06-15

The World Unites Against Inco: Backgrounder

Inco Limited is a Canadian-based global company and the world's second largest producer of nickel. Inco also produces copper, cobalt and precious and platinum-group metals. Based on the latest data filed by the company with the Government of Canada, Inco has also been identified as the worst mining polluter in Canada, emitting toxins at more than twice the rate of any other mining company in the country. While it produces three times as much nickel as its nearest competitor, Falconbridge, it emits more than 13 times as much environmental pollution.

Inco's Primary Activities in Canada

The Sudbury Mining and Processing Operations is located in Sudbury, Ontario. This facility opened in 1902. It is the largest fully integrated mining, milling, smelting and refining complex in Canada and one of the largest in the world, employing 3,300 workers. Sudbury residents have raised many environmental concerns around toxic pollution in soil, water and air. Levels far in excess of environmental guidelines now have leaked into the soil in many areas. The pollution from Inco's operations covers hundreds of square kilometers. Major studies are currently underway to determine the extent and danger posed by this contamination to the ecosystem and human health, and Inco may be liable for huge monetary damages and/or remediation. In September 2003, Inco's unionized work force announced strong opposition to the current plan to address the pollution issues.

The Port Colborne Refinery, located in Port Colborne, Ontario, has been in operation since 1918. Currently, the facility refines cobalt and precious metals, and packages and distributes finished nickel products. Between 1918 and 1984, the facility refined nickel, releasing approximately 16 million kilograms of nickel oxide; a substance identified as a known human carcinogen by the Canadian Government and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The soil on properties has been found to contain nickel levels up to 55 times higher than government guidelines for human health. Recent testing by Inco has revealed that air inside homes had nickel concentrations of more than 290 times above current government standards. Inco is now the subject of government orders to clean up these properties, and a proposed $750 million class action lawsuit is currently before the courts.

The Thompson Mine, located in Thompson, Manitoba, employs 1,400 people and produces electrolytic nickel products. Investigations into the amount of damage caused by Inco's operations are now beginning.

The Voisey's Bay Nickel Company Limited operates from sites located in Argentia, Newfoundland and Voisey's Bay, Labrador. In June 2002, Inco reached an agreement with the Newfoundland government after six years of struggling with authorities, the Inuit, Innu, and other residents opposed to the exploration of their natural environment. Inco plans to use a hydromet refining process and claims that it is safer and cleaner than current technologies. The process though, is still unproven. An initial hydromet project in Argentia recently received an exemption from environmental assessment requirements, and an environmental management plan and other key documents have not been made public. A recent campaign has forced government officials to agree to release documents, opening the door for further investigations.

Selected Inco Activities Around the World


The PT Inco mining operations officially opened in 1977 and cover vast tracts of land in three provinces on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. Inco Limited owns 58 per cent. The environment in Sorowako, South Sulawesi has been substantially degraded as a result of PT Inco's mine and smelter. There are high incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases in the community especially among children. Run-off from PT Inco's mining and smelting operations is also polluting lakes and rivers. Numerous fish have been killed and deformities have been reported. PT Inco is also facing numerous land claims based on the rights of indigenous peoples, none of which have been resolved. As a result of the communities voicing their concerns and demands, they face higher military police presence and repression. Almost 47% of Inco's contract of work area in Indonesia is located in protected forest reserves. Indonesia's Forestry Act No. 41 bans open-pit mining in protected forests. Inco is part of an international mining lobby group set on changing over 11.4 million hectares of protected forest in Indonesia into mining areas.

New Caledonia / Goro

Goro Nickel Project, on the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia, is a key part of Inco's growth strategy. Goro is believed to have the best undeveloped nickel orebody in the world, with up to 30 per cent of the world's nickel reserves. Residents and experts fear that mine waste will end up flowing into coral lagoons, destroying the New Caledonia coral reef system. The people of New Caledonia recently launched a campaign to have their coral reef system, second in size only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Inco stopped construction last December due to disputes between local unions and landowners, and a massive increase in construction costs. Inco does not yet have a permit to operate the plant once it is built.


The mining of refined nickel in Guatemala began in 1960. The company was registered under the name of EXMIBAL - a subsidiary owned 70 per cent by Inco. In August 1965, the Guatemalan government granted EXMIBAL a 40-year mining concession, renewable for an additional 20 years. Later, EXMIBAL was granted three more concessions. EXMIBAL's exploration led to widespread protests among Guatemalans who were opposed to what they felt to be the government's sale of non-renewable resources for political gain. Widespread human rights abuses are now well documented by organizations such as Amnesty International. In 1980, EXMIBAL reduced production by 50%. Finally in 1983, citing rising oil costs and dropping nickel prices, the company closed operations. Plant installations have remained inactive ever since. Local communities are now demanding land be cleaned up and returned to them. There have been fears that operations may re-open in the foreseeable future and groups are organizing to oppose further development.

Visit for more information on Inco's activities in Canada and around the world.

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