More lung cancers in Rouyn-Noranda: air quality to blame? | Arsenic Rouyn-Noranda

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More lung cancers in Rouyn-Noranda: air quality in question? | Arsenic Rouyn-Noranda

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Many people wonder if the arsenic releases from the Horne Foundry have an impact on the rate of lung cancer in Rouyn-Noranda. (Archives)

Surveillance data on the state of health of the population of Rouyn-Noranda reveal that the percentage of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is higher than the provincial average, that the incidence of lung cancer is significantly higher there and that low birth weight births are also more numerous.

These data were presented to the advisory committee for the follow-up of the biomonitoring study. This study revealed that adults and children in the Notre-Dame district are overexposed to arsenic, a carcinogenic substance.

The Notre-Dame neighborhood in Rouyn-Noranda

State monitoring data population health data show that the percentage of low birth weight births was 7.6% in Rouyn-Noranda between 2015 and 2019, while the provincial average is 6.0%.

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We also learn that from 2015-2016 to 2019-2020, the percentage of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was between 13.5% and 14.6% in Rouyn- Noranda while it was 9.2% during the same period in Quebec.

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Regional public health specifies that these data are not used to show or confirm a causal link between a specific exposure and a health condition.

The fact remains that, as the arsenic is considered a carcinogen, particularly with regard to lung cancer, many wonder if there is a link with the activities of the Horne Foundry, a company belonging to Glencore.

We submitted the 2019 biomonitoring study and population health surveillance data from Rouyn-Noranda to two environmental health experts: Johanne Elsener, member of the Association québécoise des médecins pour l& #environment and Maryse Bouchard, professor of environmental health at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Contaminants and Population Health.< /p>

First, note that cigarettes are the main cause of lung cancer and that the smoking rate in Rouyn-Noranda (20%) is similar to the provincial average (19%). The difference is therefore quite minor.

According to Johanne Elsener, it is certain that the air quality in Rouyn-Noranda could play a role in the development of lung cancer .

She cites the higher incidence of lung cancer as an example.

There is an excess risk of lung cancer which is 5.5 cases per 10,000 inhabitants. A negligible risk is no more than one cancer per million people. There, we have 5.5 cancers per 10,000, so if we make a rule of 3, it's 550 cases of cancer per 1 million inhabitants. So, we are much higher than what is called the negligible risk that we should aim to achieve, so it is extremely concerning, she explains.

L he incidence of lung cancer is 140 per 100,000 people in Rouyn-Noranda between 2013 and 2017, while the provincial average is 107.7.

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Johanne Elsener says the presence of several metals in the air, including arsenic and nickel, is of even greater concern.

There can be additive effects of these carcinogens, that is, when you take them alone they have some potency, but when you mix them in the air and administer them in a cocktail, it really makes a toxic cocktail and it increases the pathological impacts of these pollutants, she illustrates.

The two women ensure that it is impossible to affirm that for example, a cancer will have been caused by emissions from the Horne Smelter or the quality of the air.

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These are effects that can affect different biological systems. The effects can affect the brain, the heart system, it can cause diabetes, it can contribute to the development of cancer, but these are not effects that are specific, there are other risk factors for all these diseases or health conditions, so it's hard to separate things out. What is due to metal contamination and what is due to all the other risk factors, explains Maryse Bouchard.

According to Johanne Elsener, however, it is clear that air pollution has an impact on the health of some people in Rouyn-Noranda.

We may be able to think that these too high levels [of arsenic] can cause lung cancer in a part of the population. What proportion of lung cancers is caused by arsenic, for example, cannot be said. Cancer is a disease that is multifactorial, so to go and identify in a person which factor has predominated, it is extremely difficult to say. But since we have very high levels of substances capable of causing lung cancer and since, in the city of Rouyn-Noranda, we have a higher incidence of lung cancer than in the rest of Quebec, we can hypothesize that some of these lung cancers are caused by pollution from the Horne Smelter, said Ms. Elsener, who believes that urgent action is needed.

Johanne Elsener, member of the Quebec Association of Physicians for the Environment

“We have to solve this problem. We cannot sacrifice lives, sacrifice qualities of life for private profit, because the Horne Foundry is a private company that recently distributed, in February, 4 billion dollars in dividends to its shareholders, so it is a company that has the means to invest in the prevention of these emissions. »

—Johanne Elsener

We are able to document that the population is exposed above the norms, of what is acceptable and [when] that to me, from there, on the basis of these data, it should be enough for us act, whether we want to reduce exposure and protect the health of this population. We must act […] the data is clear, adds Maryse Bouchard.

The Public Health Department of Abitibi-Témiscamingue claims to have presented its data, since they were requested by several people in the population.

The acting director, Dr. Stéphane Trépanier, believes that the data indicate that a person from Rouyn-Noranda has a greater risk of develop lung cancer.

Often, we look at the data in five-year increments. For several consecutive five-year periods, certain indicators have shown a fairly significant gap with the province. […] When we have several consecutive periods like that, it is a little less likely that it is because of chance, we begin to think that there is perhaps something which explains that, specifies the Dr Trépanier.

The Interim Director of Public Health for Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Dr. Stéphane Trépanier

Like Johanne Elsener, he is of the opinion that air pollution in Rouyn-Noranda has effects on the health of certain people.

Although with our indicators we do not [make] a causal link, we can definitely think that it is a risk factor, the contaminants we have and on which we want to work, because by reducing this exposure, we have a good chance of being able to improve the state of health of our citizens, he says.

In the brief submitted by the 18 regional offices of public health on the draft regulation modifying the air quality standards relating to nickel, we can also read that the air quality index (AQI) in Rouyn-Noranda is the most unfavorable of the province.

In 2019, according to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), the Horne Smelter was ranked as the largest nickel emitter required to report its emissions.

Is it possible that the lung cancer index in Rouyn-Noranda is related to something other than air quality?

For the moment, the Dr Trépanier claims to have no other hypotheses.

On the environmental exposure side, we made several checks and a priori there is nothing else that could explain this, we did not put our finger on something else, he explains. .

The Horne Foundry declined our interview request. By e-mail, it is repeated that the Public Health Department specifies that the present data are not used to demonstrate or confirm a cause and effect link between a specific exposure and a state of health.

The entrance to the Horne Foundry in Rouyn-Noranda

It is also said to respect the target determined by the government sanitation certificate, which provides for a maximum average concentration of 100 nanograms per cubic meter. A new certificate must also be renegotiated this year.

You also have to take into account that converting a foundry that has been in operation for more than 95 years to propel it among the most successful in the world does not happen overnight. The results are there and we are very proud of them, adds the company by email.

To show that the situation is improving, we are told that the average of the first quarter of 2022 indicates a 54% decrease in emissions compared to the 2015-2021 average, representing an average arsenic concentration in the air recorded at the legal station of 71.4 nanograms per cubic meter.


This is not a significant improvement in the medium term compared to the last two years. In 2020, the average concentration of arsenic was 69 nanograms per cubic meter, then 87 nanograms in 2021.

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