Steel giant ArcelorMittal Dofasco announced to its employees that it is shutting down the No. 1 coke plant.
The 62 year-old plant has been the focus of mediations with the Ministry of the Environment, facing 13 pollution charges after exceeding limits between April and August of last year.
"After more than two years of studying our coke needs as well as the performance and life expectancy of our current coke making assets, we are writing to inform you hat we will be phasing out our No. 1 Coke Plant," wrote the company in a letter to employees.
Tony Valeri, vice president of corporate communications and public affairs, said that there are approximately 100 workers at the plant. 50 of them permanent employees who will be reassigned to other positions within the company according to a letter issued to employees on Thursday.
Valeri added that the company expects to retain high performing casual employees as well.
The plant accounts for approximately one third of the company’s coke production capacity, according to Valeri.
The transition to closure is expected to be completed by March, 2015. The plant will continue to run until then, with upkeep on the plant batteries costing the company $10 million per year.
"It’s the right thing – it’s what they need to do," said Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton.
"The environmental impact of coke is increasing," she said."Generally speaking, I think they’ve seen the writing on the wall," said Lukasik.
She added that the province is set to adopt tougher standards on coke oven regulation similar to those in the United States and likely contributed to the company’s decision.
But Valeri insists the plant closure has been in the works for some time.
"Think of it like a vehicle," he said. "As you continue to drive you do work on the vehicle – you repair it. But eventually you get to a point where you just need a new car."
"You just get to a point where the ovens don’t deliver performance."
Lukasik is pleased with the decision, though she wishes the plant could be shutdown sooner than the planned 2015 date.
"Coke ovens at steel mills are one of the most problematic contaminants regarding human health," she said, adding that monitors in communities near the steel mills show contaminant levels are increasing.
"I sincerely hope over the next two years that they are very careful about not letting the facility crumble. We all need to be extremely vigilant – the company, the community and the government," she added.
Valeri said that the 2015 date will give the company time to shut the plant down in a safe and orderly manner while still giving the company the benefit in performance the plant has left.