A group of approximately 40 concerned citizens gathered at the boat launch across from the Wahnapitae Community Centre in Wahnapitae in an effort to encourage citizen engagement with the city’s bid to host the Noront Resources ferrochrome smelter.
No Ferrochrome Sudbury formed in response to Greater Sudbury’s proposal to host the smelter at a preferred site in Coniston, a $1 billion operation that would bring an estimated 350 full-time jobs to the city. In January, Greater Sudbury Development Corporation chair Wendy Watson called the smelter a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” for city residents, but the group is concerned that the proposed site is too close to watersheds, homes and parks, and some of its members worry that the work that has been done to repair environmental damage to the area could be undone if the city wins its bid.
“The fact that this would be the first chromite smelter in all of North America, that Sudbury, if selected would be the guinea pig for this smelter, that's really what I think brought this group together,” said Kate Kearney, a concerned citizen and member of No Ferrochrome Sudbury.
“We're here today to draw our attention to the Wahnapitae intake. Most Sudburians don't recognize that their water comes from this intake and this sits less than four kilometres from the proposed smelter site. It's actually in the path of prevailing winds. Chromium 6 is a product of the ferrochrome smelting process and it is highly water soluble and so the concern for our water is real; it's a concern that is really growing across the planet.”
Recent Ontario provincial election Green Party candidate Bill Crumplin echoed Kearney’s concerns. An associate professor in the department of Geography at Laurentian University, Crumplin said the Coniston area is more complex than Tornio, a city in Finland where a world class ferrochrome production facility similar to the one Noront Resources plans to build in North America, is currently in operation. Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger visited Finland in January to tour that smelter with a delegation that included Wahnapitae First Nations Chief Ted Roque.
“The Tornio site, if there's a place for a chromium smelter, it's probably a perfect site given the prevailing winds, the fact that it's on a fjord and that the actual smelter as I recall is something like 10 km away from the closest people. Here, the smelter is going to be right in their backyards,” Crumplin said, adding that the Turnio site should not be compared to Coniston. “We have a situation where the site is already contaminated and we don't actually know what the complexity will be if chromium is -- even small parts -- are introduced to a site that's already contaminated. I feel that there should be some really serious science done to determine if it could be done safely here.”
In the meantime, Kearney said she hopes Sudbury residents will read all they can about new technology and the potential risks that a ferrochrome production facility could bring to the area.
“There are a number of provincial, national and international position papers on this. A great one to look at is the World Health Organization. We're just really encouraging people to read, to not ignore this issue to become engaged and to recognize that this is a very different operation from what we know in Sudbury.”