An arts announcement became a sounding board for a small group of concerned residents when they protested ArcelorMittal Dofasco at a good news event on Tuesday.
A handful of Hamiltonians held signs and photos of air pollution outside the Art Gallery of Hamilton's Design Annex on James Street North while inside, the company announced $1.6 million for dozens of Hamilton arts groups.
"We appreciate that they're supporting the arts in Hamilton," said protester Lorna Moreau, a north-end resident who has been fighting air pollution in her McAnulty Boulevard neighbourhood for years.
"We just want them to be good corporate citizens and look after the community closest by. Actually, it affects all of Hamilton."
McAnulty Boulevard residents have been concerned about air pollution for years. In a presentation to council in May, Moreau presented survey results that showed neighbours complained of headaches, nausea, burning throat, stinging eyes and cough. At the group's request, the city voted to form an air pollution task force.
The group wants ArcelorMittal Dofasco to abide by Ontario Regulation 419, which has stringent air quality standards. The company was supposed to comply with new regulations by 2010, but since then, "it's not going down, it's going up," Moreau said.
Marie Verdun, spokesperson for ArcelorMittal Dofasco, says the company complies with Ontario Regulation 419 in the form of "site-specific standards" — alternative standards that are approved by the Ministry of Environment — that are in place until February 2015.
One standard relates to the company's coke making, Verdun said. Reaching the regulation's standards is "not technically achievable with existing technology," so the ministry approved alternative standards for ArcelorMittal Dofasco.
The company recently invested $16 million on new door jamb cleaners at its coke plants to eliminate coke-making emissions, Verdun said. It has also spent "a considerable amount of time and resources addressing visible emissions from our coke ovens.
"Our steelmaking complex is state of the art and is among the most efficient, feasible and technically advanced in North America," she said.
Verdun said the company has community meetings, a regular "Neighbourhood Update" newsletter and a liaison committee that includes Environment Hamilton.
Research by local physicist Denis Corr shows that McAnulty Boulevard is the fifth worst neighbourhood in Hamilton for air quality, with a mortality rate six per cent higher than average. It is particularly high in PM10, which are inhalable particles such as dust.
Corr identified the largest source of pollution in Hamilton to be traffic from the city's major highways.
Moreau, a lifelong non-smoker who was diagnosed this year with a lung disease, said those who live in the neighbourhood know there are health risks.
"It's what we can't see that concerns us."