Ferrochrome smelter bids draw concern from northeastern Ontario communities

As cities across northern Ontario await a decision on the location of Noront’s ferrochrome smelter, some people say they don’t want the site in their backyard.

Noront to select smelter location this spring

Residents of two northeastern Ontario communities are concerned about the environmental effects of a potential ferrochrome smelter, which will process chromite from the Ring of Fire mining operation. (CBC)

As cities across northern Ontario await a decision on the location of Noront's ferrochrome smelter, some people say they don't want the site in their backyard.

The former Inco smelter in Coniston was chosen for Sudbury's bid. If selected, the site would process chromite from Noront's mining operation in the Ring of Fire.

Community members are now mobilizing against the smelter and circulating a petition to "Save Coniston."

Environment, health main concerns

The petition, which has garnered more than 270 signatures, states that "Coniston has long been a place where the earth remained scorched and contaminated from previous industrial processing."

Barb Deschamps, one of the people involved in the campaign, says she doesn't want to see that happen to her community again.

She's worried about where the smelter would be located, according to information provided by the city during a recent public information session.

"It's lower ground, and the river is right there," she said, raising concerns about any effluent or waste that could come from the operation.

"You know, I'm not schooled on this but I can google as good as the next person."

Coniston resident Barb Deschamps says she's worried her grandchildren's future could be affected by the ferrochrome smelter. (Supplied)

Research shows potential effects of chromium

Deschamps points to a 2012 review on the effects of chromium and ferrochrome production from MiningWatch Canada, an organization that focuses on changing public policy and mining practices.

"We need to be conscientious that such a processing plant will pollute the environment, there's not way around it," MiningWatch Canada program coordinator Ugo Lapointe said, in an interview with CBC's Up North.

"There is different ways to try to reduce that pollution, but there will be some pollution. So at the end of the day, it's for the affected community, the affected citizens to make an informed choice about the trade offs that they're ready to take on."

Deschamps also cites a report from Public Health Ontario, which examines some of the potential health and environmental effects of chromite mining and processing.

That report concludes that "considerable knowledge and experience exist from which to draw health-protective strategies and techniques."

It goes on to explain that mitigation and control strategies can be employed once a comprehensive health and environmental impact assessment is conducted.

But Deschamps says the community isn't willing to wait.

"I know they say that they're going to look into that and it's a five year process, but we don't want to be the site and then look into it," she said.

"We don't want it, period. And I don't speak for the whole community, I'm not saying I do. But I speak for young families and I speak for a lot of people in this town."

Sault Ste. Marie residents have questions

Coniston isn't the only community that's had people speaking out about the potential smelter. In November, a group of people gathered in Sault Ste. Marie to discuss their concerns.

Kara Flannigan, a former provincial and federal Green Party candidate, attended that meeting. She doesn't feel like there was enough public engagement as the city was preparing its bid.

"In just conversing with people they expressed concerns and thought it might be an idea that we get together at the library and share our thoughts and what our concerns were for this project," Flannigan said.

"What are going to be the health effects in our community? What are going to be the environmental outcomes and exposures here? Those are important considerations."

Kara Flannigan, a former Green Party candidate for Sault Ste. Marie, attended a community meeting about the ferrochrome smelter in November. (Green Party )

Decision up to Noront, mayor says

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Sault Ste. Marie mayor Christian Provenzano said there is legitimate concern about any impact on the environment.

"There's more conversation to be had in that respect, more work to be done, but it's something we're mindful of," he said.

"We want to make sure we have a full understanding of what the environmental consequences of having this type of production facility in our community would be, and there's a time for that."

Provenzano adds that it will be up to Noront where the smelter will be located, and when those conversations occur.

Flannigan hopes wherever the smelter goes, there is sufficient public consultation about what kind of technology the smelter will use to mitigate any potential harm.

"We want the people and the environment protected. We are stewards of the Great Lakes, and this beautiful part of the world we live in."

About the Author

Robin De Angelis is a multimedia journalist based in southwestern Ontario. She has previously worked as a reporter covering local news in Sudbury. Get in touch on Twitter @RobinElizabethD or by email