MAC: Mines and Communities

Inco Must Clean Up Its Act! - Government

Published by MAC on 2003-07-26
Source: The Sudbury Star

Inco must clean up its act! - government

July 26 2003

Carol Mulligan, The Sudbury Star

Inco Ltd. has to clean up its act - quite literally, says the executive director of Environmental Defence Canada (EDC). Inco tops the list of the 10 worst mining polluters in Canada, according to the charitable environmental rights association. Worse still, Inco is "so out of whack with other mining companies, it's staggering," says Rick Smith. Inco produces three times as much nickel as Falconbridge, but it creates more than 13 times as much pollution, he pointed out. "Clearly, Inco is anything but a responsible corporate citizen," said Smith, in an interview yesterday from his Toronto office. Pollution data supplied by both Inco and Falconbridge to the federal government "tells the real tale." According to information collected by Environment Canada through its National Pollutant Release Inventory, Inco released 794,808 kilograms of poisonous heavy metals in 2001 from three facilities - 621,724 kilograms from the Copper Cliff smelter alone. Falconbridge, which fell just outside the list of Top 10 polluters, released 52,326 kilograms of poisonous heavy metals.

An Inco spokesman was quick to point out that distinct differences between the two companies account for those figures. First, said Steve Mitchell, Inco produces a finished metal product whereas Falconbridge produces nickel matte, which is shipped elsewhere to be finished. As a result, Inco uses more sulphides to refine its nickel. And the facilities in which the ore is treated are "very different," said Mitchell. When asked why Inco wouldn't employ the same type of system Falconbridge does, Mitchell said that would mean Inco getting rid of its smelter. On the plus side, he said, Inco's process uses less energy and produces fewer greenhouse gases than the Falconbridge system. But that doesn't impress Smith much. "I don't think the lungs of Canadians really care about the ins and outs of the differences between the smelting processes at Inco and Falconbridge," he said. Canadians want corporations to reduce the pollution they are emitting. "Frankly, we just don't see that in the case of Inco." Again, Mitchell would disagree. "Since 1986, we've invested $845 million to reduce emissions in Sudbury.

"Right how, we're spending $115 million in new fluid bed roaster technology that will make another major reduction, not just in S02 emissions, but also it will reduce our metals emissions by 80-100 tons per year." With the latest improvements, the smelter will have cut metals emissions 80 per cent since 1988, said Mitchell. The nickel giant is "investing a lot of capital and time to lowering our emissions in a steady and responsible way, making sure we balance the impact on jobs and the economics of our Sudbury operation," he said. Smith calls the differences in the processing systems of Inco and Falconbridge "completely irrelevant." Companies that want to be seen as responsible corporate citizens are making a more concerted effort to reduce pollution. And there are some "good news" stories, said Smith. Canadian mining companies are producing less mercury than they used to, since it was determined to have such a deadly effect. "That same sort of progress needs to be made" with other metals, he said. "There are good corporate citizens and there are bad corporate citizens. Inco has to decide which one it wants to be." Mitchell points out that, beyond meeting its government-mandated commitments, Inco is investing in research to further cut its emissions.

The environmental group says that among Inco's pollutants are high levels of known carcinogens, and the point of drawing up the list is to draw attention to the impact of pollution. "We took a look at them to encourage Canadians to take a look at pollution, to encourage the federal government to really get tough on the most toxic substances," said Jennifer Foulds, communications director with EDC. "We could use tougher pollution prevention laws and better enforcement."

Brian McMahon, project manager with the Ministry of the Environment in Sudbury and a member of the Sudbury Soils Study technical committee, said the province plays a "much more active role" in regulating pollution emissions than Environment Canada. The ministry's approach to pollution control is one of "continuous reduction," said McMahon. A new control order issued last year will reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by another 34 per cent by 2007, and will reduce poisonous heavy metals as well. Whereas Environment Canada monitors emissions annually, the province monitors emissions as often as half-hourly. As well as requiring companies to comply with guidelines by 2007, they are being required to prepare further detailed plans by 2010 for cutting pollution. "We are not accepting that 2007 is the end of the story," said McMahon. Rounding out the Top10 list are: Placer Dome (CLA) Ltd., 193,810 kilograms; Barrick Gold Corporation, 118,424 kilograms; Services Mineraux Industriels Inc., 105,505 kilograms; Wabush Mines, 100,300 kilograms; Cameco Corporation, 88,812 kilograms; Noranda Inc., 54,226 kilograms; Goldcorp Inc., 54,146 kilograms; and Teck Cominco Metals, 53,898 kilograms.

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