Residents harbour a love-hate relationship with the plant that simultaneously nourishes and poisons their community
For years, the residents of Rouyn-Noranda, Que., a picturesque city of 42,000, some 630 kilometres northwest of Montreal, have contemplated the twin smokestacks that simultaneously nourish and poison their community.
The Horne smelter is owned by Baar, Switzerland-based energy giant Glencore PLC, and is believed responsible for higher rates of lung cancer in the region. It also contributes to lower birth weights, as well as higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, a recent provincial health study showed.
The plant emits 165 nanograms of arsenic per cubic metre, 55 times the provincial standard. It’s an emotionally charged issued for residents, who often forget the smelter provides a critical natural resource in the green energy transition, said Jean-Francois Boulanger, professor in mineral engineering at the Institute of Research on Mines and the Environment at the University of Quebec in Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
“We shouldn’t forget that copper is one of the cornerstones of the transition to a more electrified economy,” he said, as it’s a key component of electric vehicles. “Are the same things going to happen with lithium mines, graphite mines? What about all those materials required for that transition?”