Growers protest Rio Tinto’s Kitimat smelter emissions plan

Fears expressed in Terrace, B.C. that emissions will affect ability to grow food

NEARLY 30 people gathered yesterday in Terrace to protest plans by Rio Tinto Alcan to increase its Kitimat aluminum smelter emissions plan as part of the company’s $3.3 billion overhaul of the smelter.

Here is a statement released by growers who staged the gathering.

“WE as Terrace area farmers, gardeners and concerned citizens believe the application by Rio Tinto Alcan to increase their Kitimat Smelter Operations SO2(sulphur dioxide) emissions from 27 tons per day to 42 tons per day will have a negative impact on agriculture in the Terrace area.

Agriculture and the ability to grow a range of crops and raise livestock and poultry are a key component of the history, lifestyle and the economy of the Terrace area. This threat to area agriculture and the ability to grow and raise food in the Terrace area is an assault to current agriculture, the renewed optimism in local food production and the prospects of an expanded agricultural base in the future.

We call on the provincial government of British Columbia to put appropriate measures in place to safeguard and protect our soils and air quality so that our farmlands and back-yard gardens do not become the dumping ground for toxic chemical industrial waste products.

Over the last several years the community of Terrace and the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District have been working hard to produce an Agricultural Area Plan which outlines the significant agricultural potential of this area. For a draft of this document see A significant portion of the funding for this Area Agricultural Plan has come from the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

One of the key findings of this document is that the agricultural and growing capability of this area is one of the defining characteristics of the Community of Terrace and the surrounding region. Given the importance of agriculture to the Terrace area it is sobering to consider that the potential impact of increased SO2 emissions on agriculture in the Terrace area was never even considered in the fieldwork, the analysis or Rio Tinto Alcan’s final application and report. No agricultural soils were even tested!!

We believe the whole premise of Rio Tinto Alcan’s Report and application is to use scientific data in an attempt to convince the public and the Ministry of Environment that going from a daily discharge of 27 tons per day to 42 tons per day of SO2 into the atmosphere is well within acceptable emissions standards.

When challenged at the public meeting held at North West Community College on April 1st, 2013 to put appropriate scrubbers in place at the source, the issue for the Rio Tinto Alcan staff present apparently was not the cost, which they thought would run in the neighborhood of 200 million, instead the issue for them was what do with all the sulphur dioxide once it was captured. We believe this all comes down a company’s decision to disperse SO2 emissions into the atmosphere so they will not have to manage it at the source.

All of the scientific energy spelled out in the report was put into the justification of this premise. The capture and management of SO2 and the mitigation of its effects is not a priority for Rio Tinto Alcan. We believe the solution is very simple; Alcan should be required to look after its waste SO2 and not be given the freedom to dump it in on our farmlands and in our back yards.

According to the Sulphur Dioxide Technical Assessment Report: Volume 1: Summary Report, we can expect sulphur deposits in the Terrace area to be 10 -19 kilos per hectare per year. (Page 25) A hectare is 2.47 larger than an acre so that works out to 4.0 – 7.6 kilos of sulphur per acre. If we conservatively take the published numbers per acre per year and multiply times 60 years, the average life span of an apple tree, an accumulated amount of 240 – 456 lbs of sulphur dioxide deposits will have landed in a one acre orchard.

When one takes into account both inversions and prolonged highs the actual accumulated numbers will most likely be substantially greater, for these weather systems resist upward movement and tend to concentrate accumulated SO2 deposits.

Contrary to the repeated assertion that was made at the Public Presentation on April 1st and Northwest Community College, that these intended SO2 increases are small levels of accumulation, we would argue that these are in fact high and unacceptable levels of pollution. In addition to negatively affecting soils and livestock these pollutants will also indirectly affect agriculture in the Terrace area, for we believe this SO2 increase will impact on our ability to attract to the Terrace area the type of people who want to farm. This potential SO2 increase will also be a significant discouragement to existing farmers, and potential future farmers who are considering farming.

The Emissions from Rio Tinto Alcan’s Modernization Project and the subsequent potential Industrial Development in Kitimat and the Onion Lake Area have the potential to redefine the agricultural potential of the Terrace Area. Given our unique physical geography and an air-shed that is down-wind from this potential significant Industrialization we are vulnerable to having our air quality, soils, vegetable crops and livestock adversely impacted. Unless appropriate environmental restrictions are put in place we believe Rio Tinto Alcan’s Application to Increase SO2 emissions will have an adverse impact on agriculture and back-yard gardening in the Terrace area.

As Terrace area farmers, gardeners and concerned citizens we are asking you the provincial Government to safeguard Agricultural in the Terrace area. We ask that Rio Tinto Alcan be required to put appropriate scrubbers in place to ensure that present and future farmers and back yard gardeners will be able to raise healthy wholesome food without the threat of industrial pollutants contaminating our soils, affecting our livestock and jeopardizing our ability to grow local healthy food.”