Pollution cloud at Dofasco prompts changes after meeting with ministry

Since a large burst of particulate pollution escaped from ArcelorMittal Dofasco, forming a cloud that drifted across some city neighbourhoods over Thanksgiving weekend, the steelmaker has outlined steps towards eliminating eruptions and emissions.

A team of experts will fast track search for ways to eliminate 'eruptions'

Environment Hamilton captured photos of steel company, ArcelorMittal Dofasco's process of excess hot metal management, which with the right elements can create what are known as "coffining" clouds. The group isn't happy with the process and is asking that it be changed. (Lynda Lukasik/Environment Hamilton)

 ArcelorMittal Dofasco says it has formed a special team to fast track the search for solutions to eliminate "eruptions and emissions" that have raised the ire of neighbours, environmentalists and city politicians.

The news comes in the wake of a large burst of particulate pollution from the plant on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend that drifted across some city neighbourhoods.

The Oct.  8 eruption was captured on camera by Lynda Lukasik, the head of Environment Hamilton. But the steelmaker now acknowledges that event was one of three such eruptions over the weekend.

The bursts of particulate are the result of a process of excess hot metal management — the pouring of liquid iron into slag beds. It is known as "coffining."

The company says there are times when there is more molten iron produced than can be accepted by steelmaking and has to be otherwise dealt with.

The events were linked to a major failure of the power and control wiring for the major crane in the KOBM steelmaking facility. As a result, they had to immediate and temporary imbalance between hot metal production at the Blast Furnaces and steelmaking's ability to consume it.

Team of experts

In a letter to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Wednesday, ArcelorMittal Dofasco's general manager of environment, Jim Stirling explained that as part of recent measures, a team of experts have been established to deal with the issue.

"Since the events of October 8th, ArcelorMittal Dofasco has established a team of experts with a mandate to fast track trials, deploy additional technologies and make process reconfigurations to eliminate eruptions and emissions," said Stirling.

According to the letter, the team has "immediately" implemented a practice of using hot metal to pre-heat the coffin beds during periods when the weather forecast calls for rain, allowing the beds to be hot, dry and sealed if the company needs to coffin because of production imbalance.

The team has also reportedly initiated investigations into additional practice changes including "pour pads" to provide a more stable surface to pour the excess hot metal and re-engineering how the hot metal is poured into the beds, with the goal of bringing the pour closer to the ground.  

"I trust this letter provides you the information and context you require in this matter," said the letter. "I further acknowledge your requirement that we submit a quarterly summary of excess hot metal to your office."

Council reaction

In an email to CBC Friday, ArcelorMittal Dofasco manager of corporate affairs, Marie Verdun says the letter comes as a follow up after their environment and manufacturing representatives met with the ministry Oct. 13.

The letter also established two other incidents that weren't initially publically reported.

According to the letter, coffining continued throughout Oct. 8 and Oct. 9.

On Oct. 10, the crane repairs were completed and KOBM returned to operation.

Lukasik says the issue with coffining has been an on-going one.

The event over Thanksgiving prompted Coun. Sam Merulla to ask his council colleagues Oct. 11 to call on the province to be more aggressive in policing emissions by the Hamilton company.

Good jobs

Merulla acknowledges that the company provides good jobs in Hamilton that are of "utmost importance."

"But in 2017, most people would recognize that they're not willing to give up their public health in exchange for that," he said.

He said the issues with air quality and pollution "need to come to a head," and just having local officials speak up isn't enough to make that happen.

"The MOE (Ministry of Environment) and Queen's Park don't have to listen to Sam Merulla," he said. "Nor have they in 20 years."

Dofasco says it is 'disappointing" Merulla didn't try to discuss the issue with it prior to the motion.

With files from Kelly Bennett