Alcan environmental hearings continue in Victoria

The second week of the Rio Tinto Alcan environmental appeals board hearings is underway this week

The second week of the Rio Tinto Alcan environmental appeals board hearings is underway this week in Victoria with government environmental officials who oversaw the granting of a permit to increase emissions from the modernized aluminum smelter presenting their case.

They will have a chance to respond to claims made during the first week of hearings when the appellants Elizabeth Stannus and Emily Toews presented their case as to why the Alcan permit should be revoked and the company forced to install SO2 scrubbers in the factory.

The lawyer representing Toews said the first week saw an alternative to scrubbers, clean-burning coke anode, suggested as a solution to the potential threat of sulfur dioxide emissions.

According to Richard Overstall, installing scrubbers would be the best case outcome for his client who suffers asthma but wants to continue living in Kitimat with a cleaner airshed.

Using a cleaner but more costly coke anode, which is the material heated and processed into the aluminum alloy, could be another option, if not for long term then in the short term if sulfur emissions are seen to be high once the modernized smelter opens later this year, said Overstall.

Alcan spokesperson Kevin Dobbin said this option has been taken into consideration but that the company is confident they can show sulfur emissions are manageable once the modernized plant opens later this year. Alcan has maintained that potential effects to those who suffer asthma would be minimal.

Alcan wants to monitor the plant after it starts and determine that the impact of the increase will be insignificant as their own research projections concluded. Those complaining say this would be too risky.

The union represented Alcan workers has filed a lawsuit against Alcan over the increased emissions which would rise by 30 per cent in the new smelter while all other emissions including greenhouse gases and fluoride are dropping overall by 50 per cent.

How Alcan will conduct the monitoring after opening the new facility and how they would respond if the sulfur was seen to be a problem created a debate, said Overstall.

The other part of the case is about how you deal with mitigation. What triggers any mitigation. The approach Rio Tinto Alcan takes is that what’s called adaptive management and that is well, we will put the sulfur dioxide in the air and we’ll do lots of measurements and studies and if we find that there is some harm or if various standards have been exceeded then we will do something about it. What we are saying is that the harm that can be done to human health and to the environment is significant enough and won’t be detected in time, before the harm becomes quite general.”

Dobbin said that Alcan has served the area well for the sixty years it has operated in the area and that the company takes the safety and health of its workers and the environment seriously when it makes its decisions.

There are clear boundaries that will result in actions to reduce SO2 emissions,” he said of the initial production phase. “The Environmental Effects Monitoring has been intensely reviewed by the BC Ministry of Environment.”

Another argument from the Stannus and Toews is that effects that the sulfur could have on the growth of forests in the Kitimat Valley.

Essentially we are looking at human health and the effects of the acid rain that will be produced by the sulfur dioxide on vegetation and water … there is a big debate on what are the harmful levels,” said Overstall.

The next people to take the stand at the hearings in Victoria this week are representatives of the government who were involved in the environmental review, then in June 1-5 the hearings will switch to Kitimat where Alcan officials will have a chance to defend their decisions.