The Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum smelter in Kitimat.

The Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum smelter in Kitimat.

Kitimat union files court challenge for smelter’s SO2 emissions

Unifor 2301 has filed a judicial review in supreme court to challenge Rio Tinto Alcan's environmental permit for new smelter.

Unifor 2301 has filed a judicial review to the supreme court to challenge Rio Tinto Alcan’s emissions permit which allows them to increase their sulphur dioxide emissions without installing SO2 scrubbers.

The union, which represents 950 members in Kitimat, say the increase in SO2 poses a “major public health threat.”

From 27 tonnes per day, the RTA emissions will rise to a maximum of 42 tonnes a day, which reflects a larger output of aluminum, the company has said.

Unifor 2301 President Rick Belmont said in a union press release that the B.C. government “must take the threat to public health in Kitimat seriously.”

The union says the emissions for the new smelter are only limited in relation to daily emissions, while it should be restricted for average emissions in five to 10 minute intervals as health effects from SO2 come from ‘spikes’ of concentration, they say.

The union also believe the decision-making process itself was flawed, with a Ministry of Environment employee receiving payments from RTA.

A company spokesperson last November said secondment agreements — the name for agreements as in this case —  are not out of the ordinary when it comes to assessing and permitting large industrial projects.

As for the permit itself and the union’s recent filing, Rio Tinto Alcan spokesperson Kevin Dobbin said they are surprised by the union’s action.

“We’re spending $4.8 billion on a new, state-of-the-art technology smelter that will reduce environmental impacts by over 50 per cent, so we strongly believe the smelter is going to be very good for the environment and the health of our employees,” said Dobbin.

He said the company commissioned a third-party study on the effects of SO2 which lasted 18 months and it was reviewed by the ministry of environment.

That review let to the development of an Environmental Effects Management plan which will call for extensive testing in the start up phase, said Dobbin.

As for another ongoing appeal by two Kitimat residents on the company’s emissions permit, Dobbin said the company will watch how the process unfolds but RTA is pushing forward as normal with their permit in hand.

“We’re proceeding under that premise that we have a permit from the ministry of environment,” he said. We still feel very strongly that the environmental impacts will be minimal and we’ll just go from there.”

The smelter’s remaining emissions are seeing a decrease, most notably with their Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons which are going from 212 tonnes a year to three tonnes a year, a 98 per cent drop.

Greenhouse gas emissions are also dropping 36 per cent.