Hazardous waste from around the world burned at the Horne Foundry | Arsenic Rouyn-Noranda

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Hazardous waste from around the world burned at the Horne Foundry | Arsenic Rouyn-Noranda

Sometimes very contaminated with arsenic or lead, the waste comes from the United States, Europe, even Asia.

Sometimes highly contaminated with arsenic or lead, the waste comes from the United States, Europe and even Asia.

Confidential documents obtained by Radio-Canada reveal that the Horne Foundry received, in five years, more than 340,000 tons of hazardous industrial waste from as far away as Russia, Singapore and Brazil. The company's business model is not only based on copper concentrate and the recycling of old electronics.

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Among the smelter's waste suppliers is the Russian company Nornickel, which has had a very bad reputation since a pollution episode that turned an Arctic river blood red in 2020. That same year, the Russian company transported 8,193 tonnes of sludge and tailings containing metals at the Rouyn-Noranda plant.

The Russian company Nornickel sent 9,320 tons of sludge and metal-laden residues, classified as hazardous materials, to the Horne Smelter in 2020 and 2021.

According to a list of residual hazardous materials sent by the Horne Foundry to the Quebec Ministry of the Environment, this waste is coded E03-9.0-S, which means it could be contaminated with PCBs, a synthetic chemical that is persistent in the environment.

In 2020, nearly 3,000 more tonnes of the same type of waste also arrived from Moscow. According to our information, these sludges and residues contained 14% lead.

The Swiss multinational Glencore, owner of the smelter, says that all its imports from Russia have ceased several months ago. But many other countries supply the Rouyn-Noranda plant.

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We see that over the five years from 2017 to 2020, the foundry received 155,000 tons of hazardous materials from the United States, 81,000 from Canada and 100,000 from the rest of the world.

Recycled waste is nearly 15% of the inputs in production at the Horne Foundry.

The company explains that its operations extract value from all inputs received.< /p>

This waste is indeed integrated into the foundry reactor with other concentrates from mines. Everything is heated to 1250 degrees to extract copper and precious metals.

Concentrate and recycled materials are smelted in the Horne Foundry reactor.

The Horne's business model is increasingly dependent on overseas inputs following the closures of copper mines in North America, says Glencore spokesman Alexis Segal. We therefore aim to process as many recycled products as possible and process all available copper concentrates.

“We are not considering changing models business. »

— Alexis Segal, spokesperson for the Horne Foundry

The company wants to increase the proportion of recycled materials in [its] process.

Among the multitude of waste recycled at the Foundry, the list we obtained shows the presence of machining residues, waste from wastewater, scrap metal and even coal contaminated with cyanide.

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Our revelations have struck down the spokesperson for the citizens' committee Nicole Desgagnés, Stopping toxic discharges and emissions from Rouyn-Noranda (ARET). It's beyond anything you could imagine, she said.

“We never thought that we served as the world's trash can, it's unbelievable. »

— Nicole Desgagnés, spokesperson for the Rouyn-Noranda Toxic Waste and Emissions Stop Committee

Arsenic and cadmium discharged by the Horne Foundry have recently been established as the cause of excess lung cancer in Rouyn-Noranda.

The company SIMS M+R GMBH in Germany supplies the Horne Foundry with scrap for recycling.

The Government of Quebec has granted an authorization to the Horne Foundry for the use of waste containing metals, including hazardous waste, in the smelting process.

The sanitation certificate signed by the Ministry of the Environment indicates that the waste used as raw material in the process must be used for their copper and/or precious metal content. Glencore ensures compliance with this clause.

It is about waste recovery, explains Jean-François Boulanger, professor of extractive metallurgy of critical and strategic elements at the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT). As long as there is copper inside, they may be interested. Economic imperatives will dictate.

“One man's trash can become another man's treasure. »

— Jean-François Boulanger, professor of extractive metallurgy of critical and strategic elements at UQAT

He explains that the more the inputs are contaminated, the more the customer must pay a penalty to the Foundry Horne. These are additional revenues for the smelter operator, but he must manage the problems that come with it, whether operational or environmental.

It does not reassure Nicole Desgagnés: I want to believe that it pays off for them, but all that remains, all that they do not need, where does it go? Is it buried? It goes up in the air? In the water?

The company Sim Green S.r.l. supplies the Horne Foundry with metal-laden scrap.

< p class="e-p">Philippe Ouzilleau, a McGill University researcher specializing in mineral processing and metallurgy, puts the notion of hazardous materials into perspective. From my experience, anything other than water can be considered hazardous, he says.

The recycling of copper, and therefore precious metals, emits up to 80% less carbon than producing copper from mining, says Glencore.

According to Polytechnique Montreal Chemical Engineering Department Professor Patrice Chartrand , the recovery of industrial waste is good in the aspect of sustainable development.

“Although at the moment the Horne Foundry does not have the best press, it has an important recycling role [ …] That doesn't mean that there can't be effluents, losses, things that come out that can be harmful. »

— Patrice Chartrand, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal

Researchers have recently discovered new contaminants in the Rouyn-Noranda environment, rare earths from the combustion of electronic devices, which are not subject to any control and any standard.

< p class="e-p">In addition to the lists of hazardous materials received, we also obtained a list of unidentified customers of the Horne Smelter and the heavy metal concentration of the products they supplied.< /p>

In 2020, a total of 44 customers delivered all 700,000 tonnes of concentrates and metallurgical by-products processed by the smelter.

The German company BERNHARD WESTARP GMBH & CO. KG supplies the Horne Foundry.

While most supplied materials containing less than 1% arsenic, much higher concentrations are found, up to 19.6%.

For comparison, China prohibits the import of copper concentrates containing more than 0.5% arsenic. But Canada and Quebec do not legislate on the matter.

According to the firm McKinsey & Company, only five smelters in the world process concentrates with high arsenic content: the Rouyn-Noranda smelter, one in Namibia, one in China and two in Chile (including Alto Norte, which is also owned by Glencore) .

By cross-referencing the data from the two documents we obtained, we were able to identify certain customers and the concentration of heavy metals in their products.

So the inputs loaded with 19.6% arsenic were hazardous materials from a Glencore address in Toronto.

Second in concentration, at 3.9%, was again hazardous materials, this time from Glencore in Russia.

Recyclable hazardous materials are stored in the eastern part of the industrial site.

If it comes from Glencore itself, it sets up a potential solution, believes Nicole Desgagnés, of the ARET committee. It's not like a contract you have to break with a company outside the country.

“If it's is themselves, maybe there's a way to put this on hold until Glencore makes the improvements they claim they can make. We could at least reduce the discards enormously. »

— Nicole Desgagnés, spokesperson for the Rouyn-Noranda Toxic Waste and Emissions Stop Committee

In 2020, 52% of the arsenic sent to the Horne Smelter came from three customers, including Glencore itself.

Reducing at the source would have a positive effect on everything we hear about [pollution], concedes Jean-François Boulanger, from UQAT, but it would make less profit for the foundry to process green materials.

Especially that green materials are increasingly rare on the world market. The copper mines are supplying, but there are some supply concerns, he says.

The French company SOVAMEP collects metal waste, particularly from the dismantling of equipment and factories. It feeds the Horne Foundry.

When we talk about the electrification of vehicles, and of our whole society, it will take huge amounts of copper. People anticipate that we will run out of copper, explains Jean-François Boulanger. This copper must come from mines and mines that produce clean or green concentrates are increasingly rare.

Professor Chartrand of Polytechnique agrees. He believes that processed concentrates on the world market increasingly contain arsenic.

“They're going to have less and less access to quality concentrates like pretty much everyone else. It's a global factor, not just the Horne. »

— Patrice Chartrand, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Polytechnique Montréal

Patrice Chartrand adds that even if arsenic has a bad reputation, it has significant technological value. For chemical reasons, it's good to have a few grams of arsenic per liter, it allows you to get a higher production rate.

Trains arrive at and depart from the Horne Foundry.

In addition, concentrates having high concentrations of arsenic are not fed as is, they are mixed, explains Glencore, in order to have an arsenic concentration which is always the same.

However, this does not prevent the Horne Foundry from releasing more arsenic into the Rouyn-Noranda atmosphere from one year to the next. In 2021, releases more than doubled from the previous year.

Glencore says this data, which it itself reported to the federal government, is overstated. An audit is underway by the Canadian Ministry of the Environment.

At the same time, the Quebec Ministry of the Environment is negotiating the setting of a new ceiling for emission.

From 100 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) in air currently permitted, the Foundry may need to meet a much lower limit within five years.< /p>

In February, Glencore said it could achieve, at best, 20 ng/m3, but popular and political pressure prompted the company to announce additional investment to modernize its facilities and reduce its pollution even more, in order to get as close as possible to the Quebec standard of 3 ng/m3.

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