Province sets new pollution targets, but Sudbury smelters not expected to hit them

The Ontario government is dramatically reducing the limits for industrial sulphur dioxide emissions, but the environment minister says Sudbury mining companies won't have to hit those targets.

Annual emissions requirements to drop to 1/5 of current limits by 2023

The Glencore smelter in Falconbridge and all mining operations in the northeast will keep running, but companies are encouraging those who can to work from home. (Erik White/CBC)

The amount of sulphur dioxide that industries can pump into Ontario's atmosphere will be dramatically reduced under new regulations set to take effect in 2023, but the environment minister says companies won't be required to hit those targets.

The province announced last week that it will slash the annual emissions limit from 250 parts per billion to 40 parts per billion.

But Environment and Climate Change Minister Chris Ballard says polluting industries, like the mining sector in Sudbury, won't be punished if it doesn't follow the new rules.

"We understand there are technological limits in some industries and smelting certainly is one of those where even if they were to double or triple their pollution control investments today, our experts tell us it wouldn't perceptibly drop the sulphur dioxide emissions," says Ballard.

"We're after continuous improvement. They will be in compliance as long as we work together."

Peter Xavier is the vice-president of Glencore's Sudbury operations. (Erik White/CBC)

The two Sudbury smelters are currently undergoing major renovation work to meet the current sulphur dioxide standards, which both local mining giants have not met in years, getting deadlines continuously extended.

Vale is spending $1 billion to bring its Copper Cliff smelter into compliance and Glencore is putting $300 million into its Falconbridge smelter. 

"From a certainty perspective we face the challenge of now having to understand how we'll comply and keep our license to operate in the future," says Peter Xavier, the vice-president of Glencore's Sudbury operations.

"It's troubling given that we've made a long term investment to enact this."

New provincial regulations will require a dramatic drop in sulphur dioxide emissions out of this stack at the Falconbridge smelter by 2023. (Erik White/CBC)

Xavier says his concerns about these new emission regulations should not be seen as a lack of commitment to the safety of the Sudbury community or the environment, but he says it puts the company in a difficult financial position to have regulatory goal posts moving while it's aiming to invest millions to mine deeper and deeper to keep feeding its mill and smelter with nickel ore.

"And these aren't costs we can pass on to the customer," he says.

Minister Ballard says he has had regular contact with Glencore and other mining companies about the regulatory changes and is confident that it's just a "matter of communication to have them understand."

"We're most concerned about the quality of the air that's making it past the fence line and into communities," he says.

About the Author

Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to


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