"all i need is the air that i breathe ..."

Action on Climate Change in the Northeast

Grants Forest Products Proposes Adding Toxic Methane Diphenyl Diisocyanate (MDI)

Control Order Issued for INCO and Falconbridge Still too Permissive, says Northwatch (2001)

From the Air That We Breath - Arsenic's Journey from Stack to Soil

Action on Climate Change in the Northeast

Although many Canadians recognize the need to work on climate change issues, communities and organizations often lack the resources and focus to move from thought to action. A joint project of Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition and ecoPerth has been designed to address those challenges, and work at a community level to bring together people, resources and ideas to foster positive results. ecoCommunities is a province-wide project that will help small and medium-sized Ontario communities take action on climate change by assisting them to identify, develop, implement and evaluate projects that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The project is based on the  premise that reducing the extent of climate change is a national priority and that community members, working together, can have a significant impact on climate change.

The ecoCommunities approach puts action first, recognizing that while education and awareness programs are helpful, for real change to occur a broad range of people need to take constructive action. By engaging people in action projects, they will also increase their awareness of climate change issues and their commitment to change.

Examples of ecoCommunities actions include promotion of solar domestic hot water systems, encouraging local food production and consumption, providing a simple methodology of identifying the gross greenhouse gas emissions for a small community and translating the data into dollars flowing out of the community, water conservation for households and businesses, an Ecoride car-pooling website, alternative lawn care, and an energy-efficient tree program to identify and maintain the existing municipal tree inventory to provider summer shade and winter wind-breaks.

For further information about the ecoCommunities program in northeastern Ontario, please contact Monique Beaudoin, Northeastern Ontario Community Animator for the OHCC, by email at monique@healthycommunities.on.ca

Northwatch News, Summer 2004

Grants Forest Products Proposes Adding Toxic Methane Diphenyl Diisocyanate (MDI)

Notice of an application from Grants Forest Products for approval of the addition of methane diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), at a maximum rate of 2000 kilograms per hour to Grants production lines has been posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights electonic registry. According to the posting, Grants is proposing to add MDI to "the wood waste strands introduced through the forming heads of each of Line 1 and Line 2, exhausting to atmosphere through two (2) existing stacks".  The public has until March 9th 2003 to comment.

MDI is one of 15 substances currently under review by the Ministry of the Environment.  According to on-line sources, MDI is described as being toxic, harmful by inhalation or ingestion,  and an eye, skin and respiratory irritant. It may cause allergic sensitization, and may be harmful through skin contact. Under U.S. EPA's 1996 Proposed Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, the carcinogenic potential of MDI/PMDI would be characterized as "cannot be determined," but for which there is suggestive evidence that raises concern for carcinogenic effects.

Northwatch comments on EBR Posting
EBR Posting of application by Grants Forest Products for the addition of Methane diphenyl diisocyanate
EBR Posting on Air Standard Information Draft for Methane diphenyl diisocyanate
Ministry of the Environment  News Release on Review of Air Standards

Control Order Issued for INCO and Falconbridge Still too Permissive, says Northwatch (2001)

In September 2001 the Ministry of the Enviroment issues a draft control order which would require Falconbridge and INCO to reduce their SO2 emissions at their operations in the Sudbury basin. The proposed order would require that INCO and Falconbridge reduce their SO2 emissions from a level of 0.5 ppm permitted under the current control orders, which is double the level allowed under Regulation 337 of the Environmental Protection Act, to 0.34 ppm.

Northwatch commmented that, while the reduction would certainly be an improvement over the extremely lenient control order that was (then) in place, the proposal to allow these companies to continue to release SO2 at an hourly average rate of 0.34 ppm is too permissive, and will not serve the presumed goal of protecting the people of Sudbury from the harmful effects of these emissions.

As noted in the draft order, the Ministry of the Environment has received a report advising that approximately 13,600 people in the City of Greater Sudbury (8.5%) are asthmatic; reducing the emissions levels is essential to their health and well being, to the health of the public in general and to the health of the natural environment.

Sulphur dioxide reacts with other chemicals to form very fine particles, which,  once airborne, can lodge in the lungs and cause inflammation and damage to tissues. Recent studies have identified strong links between high levels of airborne sulphate particles and increased hospital admissions for heart and respiratory problems, as well as higher death rates from these ailments. Recent studies in the United Kingdom have concluded that when hourly average concentrations of sulphur dioxide are in the range 125 ppb to 400 ppb - and so in general much lower than the recommended 0.34 ppm - asthmatics may experience symptoms including tightness of the chest and coughing and reductions in lung function when exposed to  concentrations at the upper end of this range.  For long term exposures, sulphur dioxide levels above 0.15 ppm hve been linked with increased hospital admissions for cardiac or respiratory diseases, and exposures to levels of 0.027 to 0.031 ppm with high levels of particulate matter have been associated with increases in respiratory illness in children. The Ministry of the Environment Report referred to in the draft control order concurs that exposure to SO2 at levels in the rage of 0.1-0.5 ppm and above for periods as short as 5 minutes can adversely affect asthmatic individuals.

In addition to the deleterious effects on human health, high levels of SO2 emissions are also harmful to the natural environment, resulting in plant stress, reduced growth, and damage to leaves and needles. Jack pine, considered a moderately sensitive species, has shown injury following a 2 hour exposure to 0.25 ppm; a one hour exposure at 0.25 ppm has been shown to injure begonias; a four hour exposure at the same level has damaged broccoli. The Ontario regulatory level of 0.25 ppm is very permissive when compared to other standards internationally, such as the limit of 100 ppb on a 15 minute average set by the U.K. Expert Panel on Air Quality Standards.

Northwatch Comments, November 2001 pdf
Ministry of the Enviromment EBR  Posting of Decision on INCO Control Order
Ministry of the Enviromment EBR  Posting of Decision on Falconbridge Control Order
Ministry of the Environment Related News Releases

Pollution Probe Report on INCO and Falconbridge Smelter emissions (February 2003)

From the Air That We Breath - Arsenic's Journey from Stack to Soil

The coke ovens of Algoma Steel cranking out a quarter of a million kilo's of contaminants into the air above Sault Ste. Marie, the arsenic plume in Wawa created by emissions from Algoma Ore Division's sintering plant, a third of a tonne of hydrogen cyanide discharged to the air each year from the Hemlo Gold Camp near Marathon: the Lake Superior basin lives and breathes mining.

Air discharges are from ventilation of underground mines and diesel-fueled equipment in small part, but in much larger part from the milling, smeltering, sintering, and refining of the ore that is done to transform it from rough rock to marketable metals.

A century of iron mining began in Wawa with the discovery of the first iron formation in the area  in 1897, and the Helen Mine opening soon after. The sintering plant opened in 1939 to process the ore. By 1970 the Helen and the Victoria pits and many smaller shafts had been abandoned, with the ore production continuing from the MacLeod mine.

The Wawa operation consisted of both mines and a sintering plant, producing siderite and arsenopyrite, a sulfide-and arsenic-bearing iron ore. The sintering process combined the ore with "reverts", iron-bearing wastes from steelmaking. A conveyor belt was used to pass the materials over flames in order to form the raw material for Algoma's Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario blast furnaces. Massive amounts of sulfur and arsenic were spewed into the air.

The province of Ontario recognized that there was a problem, but provided an unusually low-tech solution. Algoma Ore Division was only required to control SO2 emissions when the wind was blowing towards the town. So the company simply didn't burn sinter when the wind blew the wrong way. The net result was a forty kilometre "kill zone" downwind of the old sintering plant. The boreal forest cover has been erradicated, and extremely high levels of arsenic are found in the soils in and around the town of Wawa.

In conjunction with the plant closure in 1998, the Ministry of the Environment undertook studies to assess the extent of arsenic contamination in the town and surrounding areas, and made the results public in September 1999. A Wawa Environmental Steering Committee, made up of The Ministry of the Environment, Algoma Steel, the Township of Michipicoten, and the Algoma Health Unit, commissioned additional studies on arsenic exposure for the residents of Wawa. Further work is currently underway to study the risk to toddlers.

Wawa has been mapped into three zones, with Zone 1 being the area of lowest soil concentrations of arsenic and Zone 3 being the area of highest concentration. Most of the town is Zone 1 and 2, with Zone 3 being the outlying area in the general direction of the former sinter plant site. Concentrations approach 1,000  g/g in the surface soil near the AOD gate. Soil arsenic levels exceed the MOE soil cleanup guideline of 20 g/g over a large area of the fume kill zone. All school playgrounds and public parks, however, were found to have soil arsenic levels below the 20  g/g clean-up guideline.

Initial assessments of health risks posed by arsenic contamination prepared for the Wawa Environmental Steering Committee identify residents of Zone 1 as having a 1 in 100,000 risk of skin cancer, residents of Zone 2 as having a 6 in 100,000 risk, and residents in Zone 3 with a risk of 1 in 10,000.

A study of arsenic uptake into firewood identified elevated levels of arsenic in local edible mushrooms, and warned against their consumption.

The Township of Michipicoten is pursuing a $55 million class-action lawsuit against Algoma Steel Inc., holding the company responsible for the arsenic in the soil. The lawsuit is still wending its way through the courts and, to date, no remedial or clean up options have been identified by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment or Algoma Steel.

Summer 2001