Quebec is going to let a factory exceed an emission standard.
The Horne copper smelter in Rouyn-Noranda, a Quebec town northwest of Montreal in the remote Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, has been emitting high levels of arsenic into the surrounding environment. Radio-Canada reports on elevated instances of lung cancer in the municipality — and the political response to that revelation — has brought renewed attention to the factory and its pollutants.
At a press conference on August 10, Director of Public Health Dr. Luc Boileau announced that the smelter would have to reduce its arsenic emissions to 15 nanograms of arsenic per cubic metre of air. For context, the smelter is currently emitting approximately 100 nanograms of arsenic per cubic metre of air, according to multiplereports. The Quebec government’s typical safety norms allow only three nanograms of arsenic per cubic metre of air, one-fifth of the new target set for the smelter.
It's unclear when the smelter will be able to reach that figure. Boileau indicated that it may take years.
On Monday, August, 15, the Ministry of the Environment announced it would impose annual interim emissions limits to reach the 15 ng/m^3 target in five years.
That figure was derived by researchers at the INSPQ, who explicitly did not take the smelter's capacity to reduce its emissions into account. Instead, Boileau said researchers focused on the public health toll. According to the public health director, the 15-nanogram threshold prevents any toxic consequences for the most vulnerable groups, namely young children and pregnant people.
The government will be directly engaging with the company in charge of the smelter, Glencore, to work out how exactly it will meet the new requirements. There are other contaminants also being output by the Horne smelter, and acceptable levels of these chemicals were also given at the press conference.
"We have said it over and over again: we will not compromise on the health of our citizens," Environment Minister Benoît Charette said in an August 15 statement.
He said the government is "convinced" the five-year plan "will bring the company [...] significantly closer to compliance with Quebec standards, and ultimately, to reaching the 3 ng/m^3 of arsenic emissions." The announcement did not include a deadline to reach that target.
Charette vowed that "if Glencore fails to comply with government requirements, the Horne Smelter will be forced to close."