British Columbia

Kitimat Rio Tinto aluminum smelter re-opens

Rio Tinto opens its controversial Kitimat aluminum smelter today, as air quality hits the worst B.C. has seen in decades.

Sulphur emissions will increase 56% after modernization, but company says other toxins will decrease

An aerial view of Kitimat, B.C., where Rio Tinto operates its aluminum smelter. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Rio Tinto re-opens its controversial Kitimat aluminum smelter today, as air quality hits the worst B.C. has seen in decades.

The B.C. government approved plans to increase the plant's sulphur dioxide emissions, despite protests by the community. 

The smelter just underwent a massive upgrade, which the company says reduces greenhouse gases, fluorides and hydrocarbons by 36 to 98 per cent.

"With the older smelter, there was lots of problems, lots of sickness. And now, with the modern smelter, hopefully, we get rid of all those problems that we can have better air quality," said 36 year employee, Raymond Raj, who plans to be at the opening Tuesday.

Lawyer Richard Overstall said it is not too late to try to stop the sulphur emission increase, despite the fact the smelter starts pouring it's first molten metal today.

"They're not opening full blast so the emissions are going to go up fairly slowly."

Permits allow Rio Tinto Alcan to increase sulphur emissions by 56 per cent, but Overstall says it could take up to two years before it reaches that level.

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