In the foreground, a factory in operation for 95 years, which spits a large amount of pollutants into the atmosphere. In the background, the former national director of public health of Quebec, Dr. Horacio Arruda, who asked for the removal of data on cancer cases from a report on the health of the local population.
Several observers blame the activities of the Horne Foundry to explain the poor air quality in Rouyn- Noranda.
Rouyn-Noranda has been in the spotlight for some time, and the air quality in this city of Abitibi-Témiscamingue worries more than one citizen. Here is a summary of the situation in five questions.
It was a study by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ) that started it all.< /p>
The study, made public this week, confirms what many already suspected: the ambient air of the city of Rouyn-Noranda is loaded with contaminants, including #x27;arsenic, which increases the risk of developing lung cancer for its inhabitants.
According to the conclusions of this research, expected since 2019, if the status quo persists, there could be 13 to 550 more cases of lung cancer per million inhabitants. In Quebec, the risk is considered negligible when it is one case per million inhabitants.
More so, another study published earlier this year demonstrated that babies born in Rouyn-Noranda are more likely to be born with a low weight.
All the data collected show that life expectancy is lower in Rouyn-Noranda than elsewhere in Quebec.
After reading these data, several observers blamed the Horne Foundry, a huge factory located a stone's throw from a residential area of the city.
The Horne Foundry, which is almost 100 years old, is a key point of Rouyn-Noranda's economy.
It is owned by Glencore, an Anglo-Swiss mining production giant and one of the largest companies in the world.
The plant, which specializes in copper smelting, has been in operation since 1927 in Rouyn-Noranda. Today, it employs around 650 people, making it an important economic driver for the region.
However, the Horne smelter emits up to 33 times more arsenic in the air than what the Quebec standard prescribes.
The short answer: yes, for now.
The plant has the right to emit up to 100 nanograms (ng) of arsenic per cubic meter, even though the Quebec standard is set at 3 ng/m3. Even more, the INSPQ study reveals that this concentration reached up to 1000 ng/m3 at the beginning of the 2000s, or 330 times more than the current rule.
The Horne Foundry has signed an agreement with the Quebec government that allows it to emit 100 ng/m3 of arsenic into the atmosphere. This agreement, ratified in 2017 when Philippe Couillard's Liberals were in power, is for five years and ends next November.
The Horne Foundry spews up to 33 times more arsenic into the atmosphere than that Quebec allows.
Faced with the controversy, the Legault government promised to force the company to lower this threshold, even mentioning a possible closure of the foundry. He has since softened his stance and opened the door to offering public funding to the company to help it adapt its facilities.
François Legault has been repeating this ever since several days: it will be up to public health to establish the new acceptable threshold for arsenic in the air to be imposed on the Horne Foundry.
However, if he judges that the current threshold is not tolerable, his director, Dr. Luc Boileau, avoids for the moment to position himself on the question, preferring to return the ball to the side of the minister. of the Environment, Benoit Charette.
The Dr. Luc Boileau, national director of public health in Quebec, remains vague on the standards to be imposed on the Horne Foundry.
Dr. Boileau recognizes that the Horne Foundry will not be able to comply, in the short term, with the provincial standard.
According to him, the notion of “social acceptability” should guide the choice of the new threshold. It will then leave it to the citizens of Rouyn-Noranda to decide if they want to deal with the risk it will entail.
Late last month, Radio-Canada revealed that in 2019, Quebec's former national director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, personally intervened to have cancer risk data removed from the body. lung of a report on the state of health of the population of Rouyn-Noranda.
Dr. Horacio Arruda answered questions from journalists regarding data on lung cancer in Rouyn-Noranda.
Horacio Arruda acknowledged these facts, but defends having done wrong.
My intention was never to hide anything, he said at a press conference on June 23. The goal was to take the time to do an independent, more robust, better documented analysis, he added.
His version of the facts has since been questioned by sources familiar with the matter, who say Dr. Arruda's study request was made almost two years later.