MAC: Mines and Communities

Pollution Probe urges Inco, Falconbridge to make cuts to sulphur dioxide releases

Published by MAC on 2003-02-22

Pollution Probe urges Inco, Falconbridge to make cuts of at least 75% to amount of sulphur dioxide they release

By Rob O'Flanagan, The Sudbury Star (Canada)

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Sudbury's nickel producers should commit to much higher levels of pollution reduction, according to a new Pollution Probe report.

The environmental organization is calling for a 75-per-cent reduction in the sulphur dioxide emissions released by Inco and Falconbridge by the year 2015.

Pollution Probe also wants the companies to sign an Environmental Performance Agreement with the Ministry of Environment, which commits them to the reduction target.

Officials from both companies say their own pollution reduction goals do not differ greatly from those of the pollution watchdog.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment is bringing in stronger laws to reduce emissions of pollutants that cause smog, acid rain and climate change in Ontario.

Part of the environmental protection plan is new SO2 emission regulations for Inco and Falconbridge operations in Sudbury. Together, the nickel producers account for 40 per cent of Ontario's total SO2 emissions.

The government's Clean Air Plan for Industry will require further reductions. Discussions between the Ministry of Environment, industries affected by the changes and environmental groups are under way to determine the new rules.

Pollution Probe is pushing for big emission cuts so that improvements in environmental and human health can be achieved in the shortest amount of time.

In a 25-page report this week, the organization said Inco and Falconbridge could achieve an 85-per-cent reduction in toxic substance emissions by 2015. Therefore the government should not settle for a 50 per cent reduction when it writes the new rules - it should insist on 75 per cent. Pollution Probe says SO2 is a leading contributor to acid rain and scientists warn that unless a dramatic reduction is made, 95,000 lakes in southeastern Ontario will become acidified.

It argues that reducing SO2 would protect aquatic ecosystems and benefit human health by reducing the number of premature deaths, emergency room visits and asthma attacks.

Cleaner smelters that emit less SO2 also emit fewer heavy metal contaminants, many of which cause cancer.

"We were very successful in reducing SO2 under Countdown Acid Rain," said Ken Ogilvie, Pollution Probe's executive director, referring to a government program from the 1980s. "We met the target reductions at that time, but there was always an understanding that was not good enough.

"Experts in the ministry are now saying we need to go 75 per cent further. We haven't solved the acid rain problem, even though the public thinks we have."

According to Ogilvie, Falconbridge is well on its way to achieving the 75 per cent reduction goal, but Inco would have to make costly changes to its smelting process to achieve a similar reduction.

Some of those changes, like a new fluid bed roaster project, are already under way. Inco's long-term viability in Sudbury depends on its ability to reduce the pollutants the company releases into the environment, company spokesman Corey McPhee said.

Inco is putting its best minds to the task, he said. "We can't afford not to change and we are committed to those changes," McPhee said.

The technological changes needed to clean up Inco's Sudbury operations have already cost hundreds of millions of dollars and will cost millions more, but the company appears willing to spend the money, McPhee said.

"We all live on this planet and have to work at a certain level of environmental respect," he said. "We do feel that we are headed in the right direction, we just don't know exactly how we're going to get there." Falconbridge's smelters are among the cleanest in the world and its SO2 emissions are already well below allowable limits, said Robert Telewiak, the company's vice-president of environment and health. The company has an annual limit of 100,000 metric tonnes per year (MTPY) in Ontario, but emitted just 38,000 last year.

Despite reducing SO2 emissions from 685,000 MTPY before 1994 to less than 265,000 MTPY, Inco remains the largest SO2 emitter in Canada. Inco has six research projects looking at ways to further reduce emissions, McPhee said, and the company recently announced it will spend $115 million on a fluid bed roaster project that will reduce emissions by a further 34 per cent by 2006, or to 175,000 MTPY.

Between 1985 and 1994, Inco made the single largest investment by a Canadian company to control air emissions, spending $650 million on an abatement program to reduce SO2. The company was regulated to do so under the province's acid rain reduction program.

The Government of Ontario, however, wants Inco to do more. In February 2002, the MOE issued a so-called Director's Order requiring Inco to investigate measures to further reduce SO2 emission levels beyond the 175,000 MTPY mark.

The order requires the company to report annually its SO2 emission reduction strategies, and to furnish a final report and implementation plan by 2010.

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