Sudbury·Audio

Vale denies wrongdoing after Environment Canada water pollution claims

New court documents obtained by CBC News allege Vale knew it was polluting Sudbury-area waters for 15 years and did nothing to address it until Environment Canada got involved.

Company only acted once government intervened, officer says

Vale says it does not agree with the conclusions made by the government agency in the search warrant documents. (CBC)

New court documents obtained by CBC News allege Vale knew it was polluting Sudbury-area waters for 15 years and didn't address it until Environment Canada got involved.

Environment Canada used a warrant to search Vale's offices earlier this month. The enforcement officer said he had reasonable grounds to suspect the company knew it was leaking contaminants into waterways since 1997. 

In an Information to Obtain the search warrant, Officer Gordon Moore said Vale, which was formerly known as Inco, did not act on the water seepage issue until Environment Canada issued a direction to deal with the pollution in 2012 after a nearby resident noticed a foamy, lime green substance in a creek and reported it to authorities. Moore said samples taken from the creek had nickel levels 68 times the allowed concentration.

The warrant documents suggest Vale knew about the seepage from the slag — what is left over from the smelting process — into nearby waterways for 15 years before the government intervened. 

Officer Moore referred to a 1997 hydrology report identifying water from the slag pile leaving the Vale premises. He said studies from that time show the seepage from the slag pile area contained high levels of nickel and other metals.

The report goes on to say the water treatment plant was not adequately sized to treat the water flow during spring months.

We have reviewed the warrant documents ... and disagree with the conclusions being drawn.- Vale statement

A 2001 report found contaminated water was seeping from the slag pile into Nolin Creek, which presented an environmental risk. 

Moore added he interviewed a Vale manager and lawyer during the investigation and "found them not to give clear, forthright and complete answers to all questions."

A Vale lawyer suggested the cause of the green-coloured substance in the water could be from anti-freeze entering the storm sewer system, according to Moore.

Vale says they acted swiftly

Vale said it does not agree with the conclusions made by the government agency in the search warrant documents.

"We have reviewed the warrant documents filed with the court by Environment Canada and disagree with the conclusions being drawn," Vale said in a statement. 

The company added it took immediate measures to address the issue once it was discovered in 2012 and has co-operated with government regulators.

The area where slag is dumped has been in use since 1929.

Information in the warrant documents has not been proven in court and no charges have been laid. 

You can view a portion of the documents obtained by CBC News here.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.