Skip to content

We’re Rio Tinto’s guinea pigs

We’re Rio Tinto’s Guinea pigs

We’re Rio Tinto’s Guinea pigs

Dear Editor,

Ellis Ross recently stated that the Rio Tinto Kitimat smelter is the “cleanest smelter in the world.” This statement by our local MLA in the Business in Vancouver magazine is both categorically false and misleading. For such a claim to be true it would mean that emissions from the newly modernized Rio Tinto Kitimat plant would be lower than similar recently constructed plants around the world. That is simply not the case when it comes to Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) emissions.

For instance, all of Norsk Hydro’s Norwegian aluminum smelters have wet scrubbers that remove over 90 per cent of the SO2. New aluminum plants in the Gulf States also have installed wet SO2 scrubbers. In Kitimat, BC, however, Rio Tinto’s new smelter has been permitted to emit up to 42 tons of SO2 per day, an increase of 56 per cent over their previous emissions! It is true that other emissions are being reduced in the new plant, and we are thankful for that, yet the increase in SO2 emissions is significant.

Interestingly, the plant was required to install the cement pad that could house a scrubber at some future date. If we as citizens living here are shown to be affected negatively by this SO2 increase, scrubbers may have to be installed. In the meantime, we who live in this air shed are the guinea pigs.

Yet wet scrubbers are the best option for the Rio Tinto plant as it goes forward. It has been well documented around the world that wet scrubbers pose no adverse harm on a body of water such as the Douglas Channel. As wet scrubbers do their work, SO2 becomes salt water, a benign product that can be released back into the water. Remarkably, no significant negative environmental effects are produced by these wet scrubbers!

Rio Tinto likes to claim that the current level of SO2 emissions are harmless. Yet the long term effect of this level of SO2 exposure is a threat to the health of workers at the Rio Tinto plant and those of us that live in the Kitimat Terrace air shed. These emissions also threaten to acidify our environment. The public hearings in Kitimat in 2015 also revealed that eight small lakes in the air shed that are now at risk due to Rio Tinto’s increased SO2 emissions. One of these small lakes is just north of Terrace. This lake and some of the others that were identified will need to be limed in the future to counteract Rio Tinto’s SO2 emissions.

During the construction process Northern Health recommended scrubbers be installed. Northern Health was simply ignored! Many local citizens also demanded scrubbers be installed. We wrote letters and made our pitch. We too were simply ignored by the BC Ministry of Environment!

It is time for Rio Tinto to do the right thing and install wet scrubbers in Kitimat’s Rio Tinto plant. Any company that wants to market its aluminum around the world as a green product yet is also dumping 42 tons of SO2 into the atmosphere each day will need to first clean up its SO2 emissions. No self-respecting “green company” would do anything less!

Charles Claus

Vice President, Kitimat Terrace Clean Air Coalition