NEWS RELEASE: Could demolition of Sudbury’s superstack signify environmental progress?

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

Imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower, Seattle without its Space Needle and Kuala Lumpur minus the Petronas Towers on the skyline. Now, try to imagine Sudbury without the Superstack! Okay these may not be structures designed for similar functions but they do cast a shadow over their cities, the psyches of their residents and how the rest of the world views them.

Recently, it was widely reported that Kelly Strong, Vice President of Ontario and U.K. Operations for mining giant Vale, told the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce that his company was assessing the possibility of no longer requiring the 1,250 foot tall Superstack. It was built by Vale predecessor company Inco for an estimated cost in 1970 of $25 million. Construction started on the tallest smoke stack in Canada in 1970 and it was first operational in 1972.

The purpose of this structure was to disperse sulphur dioxide emissions and other waste from the nickel and copper smelter process. It was considered to be the right thing to do environmentally at that time. So the possibility of its dismantling must be a good sign environmentally, right?

“Given the tremendous reduction in emissions and change in our processes, we are working to figure out if we should continue to use the current 1,250 foot stack, or build something much smaller,” said Mr. Strong at the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce event.

“Needless to say, a change like this would certainly be a very visible and tangible symbol of modernizing the way we do business in our community and would capture the imagination of many in terms of what modern mining in Sudbury can look like,” added Mr. Strong. “A decision on this should be made in early 2015, and we look forward to sharing it with you and the broader community.”

The possibility that the Superstack may no longer be needed is a clear sign that one of the largest environmental initiatives in the world is successful. Since the Ontario government started its Countdown Acid Rain program in 1986, Inco (now Vale) and its sister Sudbury nickel-copper producer Falconbridge (Xstrata Nickel, now Glencore Integrated Nickel Operations) have invested billions of dollars into research and in the direct reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions.

Vale’s latest $1 billion Clean AER (air emission reduction) project will reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 85% to approximately 20 kilotonnes per year. Over the decades, various multi-million environmental investments have reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by varying percentages and cuts in absolute emission levels. As recently as 2006, sulphur dioxide emission levels at Inco were being reduced to 175 kilotonnes per year from 265 kilotonnes.

Only a few years ago, the level was 130 to 150 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide. In the 1970s – pre Superstack days – those levels could reach 2,000 kilotonnes per year. Science, technology, investment and environmental commitment have led Mr. Strong to the point where he can state the structure could be eventually taken down because if it was not in use, Vale would have no interest in maintaining the chimney.

Better get your photos fast. A potential future alteration to the Sudbury skyline could signal another major step in the re-greening of Canada’s major mining centre.

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