Environmental impacts from potential ferrochrome smelter to be discussed at public session

The environmental impacts of having a ferrochrome smelter in the community will be up for discussion this weekend. The Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury is hosting an information session this Saturday in Coniston.

Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury hosting information meeting Saturday for concerned residents

The old INCO smelter in Coniston is Sudbury's proposed site for a ferrochrome smelter by Noront Resources. The company will choose from four bids later this year. (Google Street View)

A public information session will be held this Saturday to discuss a proposed ferrochrome smelter that may be built in Coniston in Greater Sudbury.

The Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury started hearing concerns from local residents around the time the city announced it was planning to bid on hosting a ferrochrome smelter.

Noront Resources is expected to announce later this year which one of the four proposed sites it's chosen to build its processing plant for ore from the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario.

Sudbury, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay are all in the running. If Sudbury is chosen the smelter would be established at the old INCO smelter in Coniston.

Coalition co-chair Naomi Grant says they decided to hold an information session to help inform citizens. That public discussion is planned for Saturday in Coniston.

"We wanted to provide them a forum to get balanced and accurate, factual information, and also to ask their questions of people with expertise," she said. 

Grant says the discussion is not about choosing sides, but rather to provide information to help the community better understand the environmental process and potential impacts.

Co-chair of the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, Naomi Grant holds one of the many signs posted around the city for the new Walk Sudbury program. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

"There's scientific papers, there's government regulations, government processes and all of those are the types of information that can be quite daunting or difficult to process and look through," she said.

Four speakers are scheduled to be a part of the discussion.

Ecological impacts?

One of the speaker slated to present is Charles Ramcharan, a Laurentian University professor who studies aquatic ecology.

He says potential environmental impacts from a smelter would concern air, land or water.

"The sources for release would include things like ash that is released from the smelter. Also the waste pile that accumulates outside, and then any water that's used in processing," Ramcharan said.

Charles Ramcharan is a professor at Laurentian University. (CBC)

He added the problem with chromium — that is the ore to be processed at the proposed facility — is that it hasn't been studied enough and so it's hard to know the true impact on the environment.

"Studies that have been done are sometimes contradictory and not carefully done. So I think more than anything we need to do some really rigorous science before we understand what these impacts will be," Ramcharan said.

He wants more studies and more consistent data on the impacts of chromium.

"That would make me feel a little bit more secure, but compared to things like mercury, where we understand a lot about the impacts...chromium lags behind. So it's a little bit of a mystery."

Environmental permit process

Another speaker will be Liza Vandermeer, a former staffer with the Ministry of Environment. She worked for the MOE for 32 years, mostly in northern Ontario, before retiring three years ago.

Vandermeer will be speaking about the environmental process and the permits required for an industrial smelter to be established in a community.

She says during the back and forth between an industrial applicant and the ministry there is always opportunity for residents within that community to be informed and have a say.

"The [environmental] process is supposed to be fairly transparent to the public."

Vandermeer says sometimes this can be confusing or overwhelming to the average person, so during the information session on Saturday she hopes to break things down in laymen terms and provide a general timeline.

"I would really urge people to take an interest," she said.

"Don't give up if it seems like an awful lot of scientific technical gobbledygook. It can be understood and I think it's really good for citizens to become informed and to be active participants in this kind of a decision."

The public information session will be help Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at École Notre-Dame de la Merci, on the northern end of Edward Avenue in Coniston.

With files from Angela Gemmill


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