Stewardship and Sustainability. Questions arise in the push for a Ferrochrome Production Facility.

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Noront Resources Chief Executive Director, Alan Coutts, announced in July, 2018 that the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s submission is one of two selected by Noront Resources Inc. to move on to the next stage of the process in selecting a site for a Ferrochrome Production Facility (FPF).

Noront Resources Inc, a Canadian-based mining company, is planning to build a FPF in Northern Ontario that would produce ferrochrome, a key ingredient in stainless steel.  Timmins, Ontario is also still in the running for the FPF.

Noront Resources CEO, has said that once a community is selected as a feasible site, a comprehensive, multi-year environmental assessment process will commence. Only if the project passes stringent environmental regulations will any construction begin. The FPF is expected to employ between 300 and 500 people directly, along with more than 1,000 indirectly through suppliers and other businesses. Construction of the FPF is estimated to cost between $600 and $800 million. Production is expected to begin within five to 10 years.

The Sault’s geographic location was important in their decision but was not necessarily the primary factor. “You are going to need hundreds of skilled and knowledgeable workers as this is not entry level work. It’s good paying skilled jobs.” stated Mr. Coutts in a previous interview with Superior Media.

“Moving forward, community and First Nation consultation is an integral aspect of the site selection process. It is important to the leadership of the community, and the community itself, that a broad and substantial effort is made to educate the public about the current technological process involved in a modern Ferrochrome Production Facility.” he said.

“We will start doing our engineering designs and drawings to determine what the site will look like and where it will be located. This will be done within the first few months of 2019 and from there we will start engaging more with the people, understanding their concerns, understanding any of the potential impacts and how we can mitigate them.”

There’s no doubt that the City of Sault Ste. Marie invested time and energy into the Noront submission. MP Terry Sheehan and MPP Ross Romano have been integral to the process as well. “A lot of hard work went into producing a high quality, comprehensive submission, and it is great to see it has been well received by Noront,” said Dan Hollingsworth, Project Lead and Executive Director SSMEDC in a previous interview with Superior Media. “Noront has been a tremendous organization to deal with, and I am looking forward to continue working with them. Throughout this process, the company has reiterated its commitment to community engagement along with best-in-class technologies and environmental practices.”

“I want to thank Noront Resources for their professionalism throughout this process, and I appreciate the working relationship we have developed with its management team,” said Mayor Christian Provenzano in a statement in July, shortly after the announcement was made that the Sault was one of two communities left standing in the site selection process.
“I was pleased to present our submission in person this past winter. It was a strong submission that resulted from the hard work of our project team members. On that note, I want to thank the members of the project team and I also want to thank our local MP Terry Sheehan and our local MPP Ross Romano for their efforts and support.”

I have received a number of emails from Sault citizens who have reached out to Superior Media about the potential health and environmental impacts to air quality, local and regional waterways, soil and wetlands, as well as to the overall health and well-being of the individual. What kind of community do we want to live in? What kind of development should we be embracing if stewardship and sustainability are at the heart of our ‘naturally gifted’ region.

Development of resources has been key to economic development in the entire region for generations. Without the steel industry, we would be hard pressed to imagine our city.

Superior Media invited two well-known environmental advocates to come to our studios and begin the dialogue about the potential impacts of an FPF. Mr. Peter McLarty, member of Clean North and retired longtime educator as well as Kara Flannigan, Green Party candidate in both the provincial (2018) and federal (2015) elections. In the video above, Mr. McLarty and Ms. Flannigan share some of the concerns and raise questions about shaping our community with an eye to environmental stewardship and sustainability.

Both Kara and Peter spoke about ‘carbon sink’. A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period. The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration. Learn more about carbon sink here: https://www.borealconservation.org/giant-carbon-shield

In March, 2012, ‘Concerned Citizens of Sault Ste. Marie’ sent a letter to Mayor and Council expressing concerns, including a lack of community engagement prior to the City’s submission for consideration as a site for the FPF.  The letter brought an online petition to their attention, which is still active today. One comment on petition reads: ‘This is a bad idea – Bring job opportunities that don’t come attached to health repercussions.

The petition is here.https://www.change.org/p/sault-city-council-should-address-concerns-about-proposed-ferrochrome-smelter

The following information is taken from a 2012 Mining Watch Canada publication ‘Potential Toxic Effects of Chromium, Chromite Mining and Ferrochrome Production.’

Chromite ore is mined, crushed and processed to produce chromite concentrate. To create ferrochrome, chromite concentrate is combined with a reductant (coke, coal, charcoal or quartzite) in a high temperature submerged arc furnace or direct current arc furnace.

Chromite ore mining and concentration produces overburden and waste rock, dust, tailings and  tailings water. Ferrochrome production creates air pollution, dust, slag (waste produced during ferrochrome separation from other ore elements) and process water. These waste materials have the potential to be contaminated with chromium and other heavy metals and chemicals of concern.

Ferrochrome production emits air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, carbon oxides and sulfur oxides (NOx, COx, SOx) and particulate dusts that contain heavy metals such as chromium, zinc, lead, nickel and cadmium. During the high temperature smelting of chromite ore, some Cr-III is converted to toxic Cr-VI, contaminating the dust. Prior to smelting, steps employed in some processes, such as milling and agglomeration (i.e. sintering) may also produce Cr-VI. Due to the leaching potential of these contaminants, ferrochrome arc furnace dust is categorized as toxic waste in Canada (waste K091) and must be treated before disposal in order to prevent leaching toxins into the environment. Health risks via inhalation are also a concern.

Soil, sediment, water and air can all become contaminated with chromium through industrial activities. Dust from industry operations such as mining and smelting settles out of the air, polluting soils and surface water. Most soluble chromium eventually settles onto sediment.

Contamination of soil, surface and groundwater can also occur through release of industrial wastewater and leaching of soluble Cr-VI compounds from wastes such as mine tailings, waste rock, dust and slag piles.

In aquatic ecosystems chromium is  known to bioaccumulate in algae, aquatic plants, invertebrates and fish.

Uptake, accumulation and effects are influenced by species, organism size, sex and developmental stage, presence of other contaminants, water temperature, pH, alkalinity and salinity. Researchers acknowledge there is still little information on chromium uptake and effects in freshwater species.

Studies have observed toxic effects of hexavalent chromium at relatively low concentrations (parts per billion an pars per million). These include reduced growth and photosynthesis in algae and aquatic plants; and lethal toxicity, behaviour changes and decreased growth, reproduction and survival in invertebrates. Fish exposed to hexavalent chromium have shown changes in physical and bio-chemcical conditions, increased hatching time, DNA damage and reduced survival.

Information on the doses of chromium in water or food that cause health problems in mammals come mostly from toxicology tests done in the lab on mice and rats. Effects observed on animals in experimental doses through food, water or injection include: cancers, reproductive harm, behavioral changes, reduced growth and survival.

While many laboratory studies have analyzed chromium toxicity to animals, very few field studies have been conducted about the effects of environmental chromium pollution on wildlife and we did not find any information directly relevant to potential impacts of chromite mining and ferrochrome production on terrestrial wildlife.

To read the full report, go here: https://miningwatch.ca/sites/default/files/chromite_review.pdf

While our forests are carbon sinks and help to reduce emissions, to meet our Paris climate commitments we must reduce fossil fuel use and industrial emissions, states a policy paper published in June, 2018 by Mark Cameron, ‘Policy Options’. The entire report is worth reading.  http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/june-2018/canadas-carbon-sinks-dont-mean-we-can-ease-off-on-climate-policy/

Sault Ste. Marie’s application to NORONT Resources Ltd. for a ferrochrome smelting facility site is one of two submissions left. Alan Coutts, CEO, Noront Resources has stated that a decision between Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie is expected before the end of the year.

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