The ferrochrome debate is heating up in Sault Ste. Marie.
During a Saturday meeting at the Water Tower Inn, more than 300 people gathered to express concern about plans to develop a ferrochrome plant.
Peggy Lauzon, an instructor at Algoma University, facilitated the meeting for concerned citizens, explaining, “I think that we have a long history of being a steel industry, and I honour that and I understand that that’s important, but think that we need to rely on our experts to ensure the health and safety of our community.”
On Saturday’s meeting, doctors and scientists shared their research on the subject of ferrochrome production, including the harmful effects of an additional industrial facility in the already cancer-prone Algoma area.
Physicians in attendance brought forward research identifying Sault Ste. Marie as a “hot spot” for cancers, especially blood-related ones.
Dr. Rob Suppes, a local emergency room physician, said it wasn’t until he practiced in Sault Ste. Marie that he saw how dramatic the increase in cancer was among patients here.
“I routinely see people in the emergency room who have three completely separate cancers. I had never seen this before coming here. I didn’t know it was possible. It’s distressing to me to look at having another heavy industry coming to this town that could potentially increase an already high cancer rate.”
Suppes was one of 15 physicians who wrote a letter to municipal leaders raising concerns about the addition of a local ferrochrome plant.
Many scientists were also in attendance.
Pedro Antunes, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Invasive Species Biology at Algoma University presented studies that showed the maximum amount of pollution that can be collected and not emitted into the environment is currently sitting at 70 per cent.
“Zero pollution is an absolute impossibility,” said Antunes. “So if they tell you that – don’t believe them.”
He then identified studies he came across which stated that a pollution-free zone could be guaranteed – but then told the audience – “You have to be wary of scientific research because there can be bias there as well. I did research on the authors who stated this claim and they have investments with the ferrochrome industry.”
While Antunes said Noront proposes new technologies to eliminate the possible leaks of Chromium-6 – the carcinogenic element produced through the production of ferrochrome – he noted even if the plant were 95 per cent safe – that extra five per cent would seep into our waters, soil, and air and therefore have major repercussions.
“Even if it is a small percentage of the whole,” said Antunes, “That’s a huge amount of chemicals coming into our community.”
Dr. Geoff Skelton also attended and cited research that demonstrated Chromium-6 also put people at increased risk for various cancers – including lung, gastrointestinal, oral, stomach, and other organs. It can also cause water to be contaminated – leading many attendees to question why city council would permit the ferrochrome plant to be so close to the St. Mary’s river and the Great Lakes.
Many speakers referenced the plant in Tornio, Finland, noting that significant amounts of dust (or ash) emitted, enters the air and land surrounding the Outukumpu plant. Several attendees of Saturday’s meeting wondered how city council could approve a plant to be located close to many west end homes.
Tom Price, a retired engineer who had set up the world’s first chrome recycling plant in Pennsylvania and hosted an educational presentation in Sudbury (when they were considered in the running for the plant), said no one lived for close to three kilometers from the Finland plant due to its toxic residues.
Past the three-kilometre circumference, however, soil and water still have traces of the contaminant and its surrounding seas – the Gulf of Bothnia – are some of the most polluted globally.
“So how can we allow a ferrochrome facility in a city that has been flagged as one of five cities in Ontario with the highest rates of cancer?” said Antunes. “Why produce it in the middle of the city?”
Noront’s explanation for the location was because it “will reduce overall smelter costs by one-third” to have the smelter located right within the city limits.
Still others questioned why Indigenous communities were not asked for consent. Many attended the Saturday meeting and said they were told about the plant – not asked about whether they agreed with its existence. In fact, a May 8 news item confirmed the Batchewana First Nation hadn’t supported the ferrochrome proposal.
It makes sense then that Chief Dean Sayers of Batchewana First Nation and former Chief Paul Syrette of Garden River First Nation were absent at May’s announcement that Noront had settled on the Sault for its ferrochrome facility.
Angela Trudeau, a local Indigenous woman, said she attended the meeting because she wanted to give voice to her community. “I understand that jobs are important, but at what expense?
“At the end of the day, it has to do with consent from the (Indigenous) communities. When you [city council] invite partners in for a community meeting at a tribal level, that does not necessarily mean that we’re consenting,” she explained. “We’re inviting you in to learn more information. At the end of the day, we will have a say in terms of if things move forward as a collective. Our leaders are driven by the collective.”
Other attendees, who did not wish to be identified by name, expressed concern about the transport of ore from the Ring of Fire and the exporting of physical waste. “Apparently there will be 234 trucks coming into town and then another 167 trucks going back out with toxic slag,” said one attendee. “Why can’t they process the ore where they initially extract it?” said another. “Why do they have to bring it into our community?”
Beyond the high number of physicians who attended, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, Sault NDP candidate Sara McCleary and Green Party candidate Geo McLean attended the meeting.
With more than 7,500 signatures on the online petition against the ferrochrome plant, the movement of activists against the plant continues to grow.
The meeting is purportedly the first of many more to come.
The petition is at: www.change.org/p/say-no-to-ferrochrome-production-in-sault-ste-marie