[Sudbury] Citizens question Cliffs – by Jonathan Migneault (Sudbury Star – October 16, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

A group of citizens in Capreol voted unanimously Monday night to form a citizens’ committee to explore the net benefits and potential downsides of the planned Cliffs chromite smelter near the community.

Environmental concerns were front and centre at the meeting. Judy Sumner, a retired chemistry teacher at Cambrian, explained how chromite turns into a carcinogen when it comes into contact with oxygen.

That hazard was publicized in the case of Erin Brokovich and her fight against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993. Her exploits were later made into a film starring Julia Roberts.

Sumner said a modern closed smelter was built in Tornio, Finland that does not allow the burned chromite to escape into the surrounding air. She said her concerns about the project would be alleviated if Cliffs built a similar plant.

Elie Martel, who was voted the committee’s chair, said he attended an open-house meeting hosted by Cliffs, but the answers he received on environmental issues were not very forthcoming.

“Whatever is developed should be developed properly,” he said.

He was told the smelter would be “state-of-the-art” but said he was not given any details on what that meant.

Bob Johnson, a retired mining engineer who was voted the committee’s secretary, said he supported the project’s economic benefits but also wanted to be sure every last precaution would be taken from an environmental perspective. He said the project is expected to produce $4 million in revenue a day once it is up and running.

One man who attended the meeting said he felt the committee’s focus on the environmental impact of the Cliffs project was too narrow. He questioned whether the project would be of any benefit at all and raised the high cost of building a transportation system to the Ring of Fire, where the chromite would be mined, and the high energy costs for the smelter itself.

He said the committee should start from a neutral standpoint and consider all the project’s various elements at face value.

Homer Seguin, a retired mining health and safety advocate, said it was important to make sure Cliffs follows government safety and environmental legislation. Seguin developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when he worked at a nickel cindering plant in Sudbury. Many other workers who laboured at that plant died from health complications directly related to their jobs.

“They had guidelines for exposure to nickel,” Seguin said. “But the company didn’t meet those guidelines.” He said the company was able to lobby government to exempt it from the guidelines through an order in council.

“You can’t depend on government guidelines,” Seguin said. “We need to stay on top and make damn sure they don’t (skirt the laws).”

Seguin said a citizens’ committee would allow regular people to have more say and a bigger impact in the environmental assessment stage of the project.

The ongoing environmental assessment continues with an open house hosted by Cliffs at the Capreol Community Centre on Thursday, Oct. 25 from 4 to 7 p.m.

For the orginal version of this article, please go to the Sudbury Star website: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2012/10/16/citizens-question-cliffs