MAC: Mines and Communities

Merits of soil study questioned

Published by MAC on 2003-05-14

Merits of soil study questioned

By Carol Mulligan/The Sudbury Star, Canada

May 14 2003

Local News - The credibility of the Sudbury Soils Study was called into question Tuesday night by a long-time trade unionist concerned that Inco and Falconbridge Ltd. are partners in the project.

Homer Seguin, a former president of Local 6500 of the United Steelworkers with 50 years' experience in mining, said a "significant" number of people won't believe the study because the mining giants are involved.

"What is gonna be the use, in the end, if the study is truthful and nobody believes it or pays attention?" Seguin asked the consulting firm heading up the study.

The Sudbury Area Risk Assessment (SARA) Group held a workshop called Have Your Say in Copper Cliff, in which Seguin and about 30 others participated.

The workshop, gave citizens the opportunity to have input into the two-year, $5-million study examining the human and ecological effects of metals found in Sudbury soils.

Seguin said the study is needed, but he questioned the fact representatives from Inco and Falconbridge are voting partners in the project, along with the City of Greater Sudbury, the Ministry of the Environment and the Sudbury and District Health Unit.

"My concern is Inco and Falconbridge ... influencing members of the committee," said Seguin.

That could be problematic should the study conclude that either or both mining companies are responsible for contaminated soil and that they should pay for its cleanup, said Seguin.

But a biologist appointed to evaluate the study process is convinced that process is sound and reliable, and that there are enough checks and balances in place to ensure its findings are above board.

Franco Mariotti, staff scientist at Science North, said "times have changed" since the days when "Mother Inco" ruled Sudbury.

"It's our right to know" if Sudbury's soils have been contaminated by Inco and Falconbridge, said Mariotti.

He said the process for the Sudbury Soils Study was designed in such a way that the mining companies, who are funding it, have a say, but can't control it.

All of the committee's decisions must be arrived at by consensus before it can move on in the process, said Mariotti. And there is ample opportunity for public involvement and scrutiny of that process.

There are three "checks and balances" to prevent Inco and Falconbridge from unduly influencing the committee, said Mariotti.

"Number one, I'm totally independent, totally outside" the process, he said.

Mariotti is issuing quarterly reports on the soils study and he said he would not hesitate to blow the proverbial whistle should he witness anything untoward in the proceedings.

Secondly, the study is being overseen by a public advisory committee, chaired by Cambrian College vice-president Ivan Filion.

The committee, whose meetings are open to the public, advises the technical committee, which could ignore that advice, Mariotti said, but at its own peril.

Finally, Mariotti said the study has an independent chairman in Dick DeStefano, who doesn't represent anyone's interests, but was hired to essentially facilitate the process.

"Time will tell" if the process is flawed or not, said Mariotti.

In two years' time, when the findings are expected, Mariotti said Seguin's questions should be asked again: "Has anything been railroaded by Inco or Falconbridge? Has anything been hidden?"

But Mariotti said he is "optimistic"the committee will reach the proper conclusions.

Those conclusions will be based partly on analysis of 12,000 samples of soil collected in Greater Sudbury and the input of citizens such those at Tuesday night's session.

Mariotti said the study will determine the human health risks of the metals detected in Sudbury soils.

If the study shows that metals are affecting Sudburians' health, either in the long- or short-term, the mining companies could be forced to pay to clean up contaminated soils.

Mariotti said he "believes" in the study and the process.

"We're gonna do this study right," he said.

But Seguin remains unconvinced.

"I am in favour of the study, I want a good study," he said.

But this one - because of the participation of Inco and Falconbridge - "in the eye of the perception of Sudburians is wrong."

During the workshop, participants broke into groups to look at the "social, economic and natural features of the local environment that people care about."

When it came to local recreation and environmental priorities, participants said it's important to continue to build upon Sudbury's success in regreening a devastated landscape.

That includes focusing on greater plant diversity than the millions of white pine seedlings planted during regreening.

Natural resources such as Ramsey Lake, Lake Wanapitei and the Wanapitei River, and Vermillion River all need protecting, participants agreed.

A second workshop will be held in Falconbridge tonight from 6-9 p.m. at Branch 336 of the Royal Canadian Legion.

The third and final Have Your Say Workshop will be held Thursday from 6-9 p.m. at Club Allegri in Coniston.

Copper Cliff, Falconbridge and Coniston were chosen as locations for the workshops because previous soil sampling has shown that metal concentrations are generally highest in areas where smelters are located, as they were in all three communities.

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