Group appeals environmental permit for Rio Tinto Alcan’s modernized emissions

A group and individuals have taken issue with an issued environmental permit which allows an increase in SO2 from RTA's smelter.

Four people who live in Kitimat and Terrace, as well as organizations SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, and Lakelse Watershed Society, are appealing a Ministry of Environment decision to allow an increase in sulphur dioxide emissions from Rio Tinto Alcan’s eventual modernized smelter.

RTA’s new smelter will reduce many of its emissions, however sulphur dioxide is the one component going up, which the company has said is purely in line with increased production.

Sulphur Dioxide is increasing by 56 per cent to 42 tonnes per day. PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are being reduced by 98 per cent to three tonnes per year. Particulates are going down 80 per cent to 420 tonnes per year. Gaseous fluorides are being reduced 72 per cent to 168 tonnes per year and greenhouse gases are being reduced 36 per cent to 898,800 tonnes a year.

That is according to company numbers.

The appellants in the case believe RTA should be investing in scrubbing technology to cut down the SO2 emissions.

“Alcan has made tens of billions of dollars smelting aluminum and selling electricity in British Columbia,” said Charles Claus, an appellant for the application and a Terrace-based food grower. “Investing in scrubbers would not only protect our health and environment, it would also make Rio Tinto Alcan a world leader in sustainability”.

“The easy, responsible solution is to install sulphur dioxide scrubbers,” said Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. “Rio Tinto Alcan’s own experts have told us that scrubbers work well and can easily be installed at the new smelter – the company simply doesn’t want to spend the money.”

RTA’s Manager of Corporate Affairs and Community Relations Colleen Nyce said the company is sad that they’re being brought into an appeal process with local stakeholders.

She said the company has tried to speak directly to the appellants but they have so far refused any meetings, she said.

“We prefer that we would sit down with these appellants…we asked the appellants to sit down and talk with us at the end of June, early July. They declined our request,” said Nyce.

She does say the company has committed to the Ministry of Environment to continue monitoring the emissions once the new smelter is running and if the emissions don’t match their target they will add SO2 scrubbers. Room for scrubbers are left in the smelter’s designs.

But the company is resistant to scrubbers, only because the only proven technology that has worked with aluminum production is a ‘wet scrubber,’ said Nyce. That means they’d be using ocean water to clean the SO2 for their emissions.

“What that means in Kitimat is that we would be withdrawing approximately 25,000 cubic meters per hour of sea water and reintroducing it back into the ocean with the scrubbed SO2 in it. That is the not the preferred method for dispersion of our SO2,” she said.

Experts had looked into the potential emissions when RTA first received their go-ahead for the modernized plant and the recommendation given to the company was air dispersal for the SO2, said Nyce.

“It’s really important for people to remember that the modernized smelter will reduce its overall environmental emission footprint by nearly 50 per cent. That includes half a million tonnes a year of greenhouse gasses,” she said.

The company will, she said, stand by their decisions.

“We believe that the decisions that we’ve made are all the right decisions for the right reasons,” she said, later adding, “We feel very confident it’s going to be a much, much healthier environment even with the SO2 increase.”