Horne Foundry: Quebec waited 8 days to inspect 'huge brown cloud' | Arsenic Rouyn-Noranda

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Horne smelter: Quebec waited 8 days before inspecting a “huge brown cloud” | Arsenic Rouyn-Noranda

A fine of 10,000 dollars was imposed on the multinational which made profits of 6.8 billion dollars in 2021.

The Quebec Ministry of the Environment waited eight days before launching a field inspection of the Horne Foundry in late 2020, following reports of a contaminated “dust storm” at the arsenic and heavy metals, reveal documents obtained by Radio-Canada.

The complaint of November 23, 2020 was not reassuring when it arrived at the offices of the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change (MELCC), in Rouyn-Noranda. A motorist had reported “a huge brown cloud” coming from a smelter tailings pond, which is known to be highly contaminated.

Subsequently, an official wrote to her colleague that in the bypass road, it is possible to observe brown snow (probably because of this cloud ). The Ministry is then aware that the situation is dangerous for motorists.

“The amount of dust emitted is sufficient to reduce visibility for motorists using the bypass. »

— Véronic Boudreau Thibeault, MELCC inspector, December 1, 2020, regarding the information available to her on November 23

Despite everything, no inspection or sampling is made in stride, even when the Horne Foundry in turn reported the cloud of dust on November 23. And air pollution will continue.

The next day, November 24, the pollution is still unexplained. The company tells the Ministry that it is investigating, but “it is difficult to explain the phenomenon”.

To trace the thread of this case and see the delay of eight days, we obtained, by the Access to Information Act, emails from the Ministry and Glencore, photos, results of x27;sampling, a scientific opinion, a notice of non-compliance and various notes and memos relating to the administrative monetary penalty that was finally imposed on the company, one year later, on November 11, 2021.

Following the report of November 23, 2020, the MELCC immediately undertook verifications, responds the Ministry. The December 1st inspection including sampling is one of the verifications carried out.

“The strategy for handling a complaint may vary from case to case. For obvious reasons of efficiency, the Department does not disclose in detail the intervention strategies used. »

— Sophie Gauthier, regional spokesperson for the Quebec Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change

For its part, the Horne Foundry has not declined to comment on this event and referred us to the contents of the December 1 inspection report.

The documents show that the inspection comes after a new report that the “huge brown cloud” is still visible.

The inspector notes in her December 1 report that a road sign is completely blackened by the layer of dust. She thinks that this “blackish dust” “possibly got inside the vehicles”.

A few months later, the samples she had taken revealed contamination of the dust with arsenic, beyond 20 times the acceptable limit for industrial soils in Quebec and three times the limit for nickel. and cadmium, other carcinogens.

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The Ministry writes in its report that this pollution was likely to endanger the life, health, safety, well-being or comfort of human beings, or to cause damage or otherwise harm to the quality of the environment, ecosystems, living species or property.

The source of the pollution was finally explained: the winds had carried heavy metal-laden dust from the Quémont-2 tailings pond, located 200 meters north of the Rouyn-Noranda bypass, itself to the north from the Horne Foundry and the Notre-Dame district (2.5 kilometers away).

The tailings from Quémont-2 park are acidogenic, that is #x27;they produce acidic pH waters when in contact with oxygen and water.

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Quémont 2 is a tailings facility considered by the Ministry to be “active and unrestored”. It is 102 hectares (about one square kilometer) in area. The residues in it are both solid and liquid.

According to data collected by the company, the average dust concentration at Quémont-2 park is 6.4 kilos of arsenic per square kilometer, per 30 days.

On December 4, Glencore explains that there is a section of the tailings pond that had not been given dust suppressants to keep the soil wet, as it “is not safely accessible” due to insufficient lift. She promises to find another method to avoid the problem in the future.

“You definitely need to find a solution to prevent this from happening again.

— Ministry email to Glencore, December 4, 2020

Almost a year after the event, on November 10, 2021, the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change awarded Glencore an administrative monetary penalty of $10,000, the maximum amount it can impose on a company (legal person) for this type of penalty, with the objective of “deterring the repetition of the breach”.

He is accused of not having complied with Article 20 of the Environment Quality Act “between November 23 and December 1, 2020”. The MELCC writes that it judges that the real or apprehended consequences of the breach on the environment or human beings are assessed as being moderate.

The Horne Foundry belongs to the Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore.

Aggravating factors are present in the file, adds the Ministry, since the Horne Smelter has already been warned for emissions of dust containing sulfur dioxide and for exceeding the toxicity of water in an effluent for several years.

In 2021, the multinational Glencore reported a profit of $6.8 billion. By way of comparison, we can thus estimate that the $10,000 fine imposed on the company represents the equivalent of $1.5 for a millionaire.

The lawyer at the Quebec Center for Environmental Law (CQDE) Anne-Sophie Doré regrets that the Ministry is in a perspective of support, so as not to harm economic activity.

“When you're talking about a multi-billion dollar company, it's always going to be a challenge to make sure the sanction is enough to stop that behavior. »

— Anne-Sophie Doré, lawyer at the Center québécois en droit de l’environnement

The Ministry of the Environment clarifies that the amounts of administrative monetary penalties are not determined according to whether it is a multinational or a small company. Despite this, these sanctions remain a highly effective tool, assures the MELCC, inspired by trends and best practices on a global scale.

If Quebec had judged that the foundry's breaches had serious consequences for the environment or human beings, he could have used a criminal remedy with the possibility of imposing a fine of $1,000 to $6 million. At that time, the judge could have taken into account the financial capacity of the company.

In the MELCC conviction register, the maximum we found in the last ten years is a penalty of $750,000 imposed on Wabush Mines (in 2014) and $575,000 on Canadian Malartic Corporation (in 2017).< /p>

Quebec's Minister of the Environment also has the power to stop activities, recalls the CQDE lawyer. It's the atom bomb of the Environment Quality Act, says Anne-Sophie Dorée, but it's little used.

Minister Benoit Charette himself recalled that he had this string to his bow in the Horne Foundry file this summer. The company must reduce its emissions of various metals at the request of the Quebec government. Public consultations are ongoing until October 20.

During the construction of the bypass, until 2019, the Quebec Ministry of Transport had to excavate 30,000 cubic meters (m3) of contaminated soil.

Analysis had shown that half of the soils exceeded the limit established in Quebec for industrial land (especially for copper, arsenic and lead).

The operation to remove these soils and bring them to a tailings pond cost Quebec more than $2 million.

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