MAC: Mines and Communities

Inco subject of worldwide protest

Published by MAC on 2003-10-08

Inco subject of worldwide protest

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press-Toronto

8 October 2003

Environmentalists handed out southern Ontario ‘‘dirt bags’’ to New York investment analysts Tuesday as part of a worldwide protest to condemn the environmental record of Canadian nickel giant Inco Ltd.

The plastic baggies contained roughly 100 grams of dirt meant to symbolize the contaminated soil of homes in Port Colborne, Ont., where pollution from an Inco refinery is blamed for causing the town’s children to fall ill with migraines, asthma and rashes.

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleges the high levels of nickel oxide in the area also puts residents at risk of developing cancer.
Inco has denied it has endangered anyone. Spokesman Steve Mitchell said Inco was designated as a ‘‘socially responsible company’’ this year by two European investment firms.

‘‘They looked at environmental performance, community relations, health and safety, and they rated our performance as well above average for our industry,’’ Mitchell said.

But similar stories alleging the company’s environmental disregard can be found around the world, said Jennifer Gould of Environmental Defence Canada, one of several groups taking part in a worldwide effort to shame the mining company into improving its record.

‘‘Not all Canadians are aware of Inco’s human rights track record and its environmental track record in countries like Indonesia, New Caledonia and its past record in Guatemala,’’ Gould said in explaining the impetus for protests that will span several days around the world.

‘‘It was about time that the communities got together and raised their concerns on one day so that not only Inco, but also Inco’s shareholders and the governments where Inco operates … can hear loud and clear the communities’ concerns.’’

Gould said activists delivered a letter of demands to Inco head offices in England, Australia and Japan as well as Thompson, Man.

She said the most striking demonstrations took place in Indonesia, where protests in two different cities drew groups of 300 people each. Hundreds of indigenous leaders in Guatemala signed a declaration highlighting their concerns Monday and were to take it to their government Tuesday, she said.

Protests were on a much smaller scale in Canada.

Local protest

University environmentalists put on a street demonstration in St. John’s, Newfoundland, while the Raging Grannies musical protest group planned to gather outside an Inco plant in Sudbury, Ont. and Port Colborne residents were to attend a community meeting today, Gould said.

Mitchell dismissed the environmental group’s claims and said he wasn’t aware of any significant action taking place at any of the company’s plants.
‘‘The organizers said in their press release there would be a demonstration in New Caledonia. There was nothing,’’ said Mitchell, adding relations with Inco communities around the world were good.

‘‘At our operation in Indonesia, where they said there would be a demonstration, there was nothing. At our refinery in Wales there was nothing.’’
Gould said there were multiple protests in Indonesia that may not have taken place directly at Inco plants, but admitted she hadn’t heard if a planned protest in New Caledonia went ahead. She said there were no plans for a demonstration in Wales.

In New York, a meeting of Wall Street financial analysts being addressed by Inco chairman Scott Hand was greeted by a Port Colborne lawyer and local environmentalists who handed them pamphlets and bags of dirt.

‘‘The bag indicates that if this was filled with Port Colborne dirt there likely would be enough nickel in the bag to be economically mined,’’ said Eric Gillespie, lawyer for Port Colborne residents seeking compensation for their polluted property and sickened children.

A nickel company can comfortably run a mine if the soil contains 8,000 parts per million, Gillespie said from New York.

Some of his clients have recorded nickel levels of 12,000 14,000 and even 17,000 parts per million, he said.

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