MAC: Mines and Communities

Port Colborne residents protest Inco over alleged contamination of their air

Published by MAC on 2003-06-04

Port Colborne residents protest Inco over alleged contamination of their air

Stephanie Levitz, Canadian Press

June 4 2003

Toronto - Generations of residents of the southern Ontario communityof Port Colborne took to the streets of Toronto on Wednesday to protest against Inco, demanding the giant nickel producer take action over high levels of the metal they say can be found in the air of their homes.

About a dozen residents calling themselves the Coalition Against Contamination first demonstrated outside a downtown hotel where Inco president Peter Jones was believed to be staying. The residents travelled from their community 150 kilometres southeast of Toronto to call attention to test results that show high amounts of cancer-causing nickel in the air
of their homes.

Inco says nickel levels in their homes are normal. The company says independent toxicologists are still reviewing residents' test results, but Inco has concluded only one home contains air contaminated at levels above the average range of normal homes in Ontario.

"There have been no studies that have been conducted yet that have indicated any risk to human health in Port Colborne," said company spokesman Steve Mitchell. "Those homes are safe. The air is safe." Port Colborne residents disagree.

"Since 1980, we have been getting sicker and sicker," Wilf Pearson, 72, said of himself and his wife Catharine, 60.

Pearson's daughter-in-law and several of his grandchildren were also on hand, holding up placards reading Hell No, We Won't Glow.

"Who knows what will happen to my children and grandchildren?"

Pearson's grandchildren all suffer from asthma and have recurring rashes that their mother attributes to the nickel levels.

By noon, the protesters had moved on to the Ontario legislature, where they accused the provincial government of doing nothing to push Inco to take responsibility.

Protesters said the ministries of Health and Environment are at odds over who is responsible for ensuring Inco cleans the inside of Port Colborne homes.

The political ball toss is letting Inco get away with contaminating homes, said protest organizer Diana Wiggins.

"It would be nice to see the government side with the residents," she said. "They need to force Inco to take responsibility."

Protesters made a final stop at Inco's Toronto offices. Two protesters attempted to meet with someone inside Inco but were turned away. Mitchell denied that the protester had asked to speak with anyone.

"They might be the Goliath but we still have a few stones left," said protester Angie Desmarais, 50. "We are not going to go away. This issue is not going to go away."

Port Colborne is the site of an old Inco refinery that processed more than 2.5 million tonnes of nickel oxide between 1918 and 1984.

The mining company has been locked in a battle over nickel contamination with the residents of the city since 2000, when the Ontario Environment Ministry identified higher-than-normal levels of nickel in the soil.

In late May, Inco released the results of its own air quality tests of 31 Port Colborne homes.

In a letter to residents, the company said "all of the homes that were sampled show nickel levels that would be considered safe and would not raise any health concerns."

Ten residents turned over their test results to lawyer Eric Gillespie, who represents 1,500 people from Port Colborne in a class-action suit against Inco.

Independent analysis of the results conducted by Mark Richardson, a health-risk assessor hired by Gillespie, showed that the total amount of nickel in the air was in some cases 3,400 per cent higher than acceptable Ontario standards.

Inco said it disputes the methodology used in Richardson's analysis.

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