Unifor wins chance to appeal Rio Tinto Alcan environmental permit

A judicial ruling is allowing Unifor to challenge the ministry of environment's permit for the Kitimat smelter's emissions.

Unifor announced on Friday that they have been successful in their filing of a judicial review of their appeal of Rio Tinto Alcan’s emissions permit which allowed the company to proceed without installing sulphur dioxide (SO2) scrubbers.

SO2 at the modernized smelter is permitted to rise, from 27 tonnes a day to 42.

“The union has been given standing to allow the board to consider a mitigation plan around possible ill effects of sulphur dioxide on human health,” explained Unifor 2300 President Sean O’Driscoll. “As an organization, we care about our members but we also care about the community at large. Anything to impact human health we’re going to be front and centre in ensuring the most appropriate mitigation strategies are put in place.”

He said there will likely be hearings in the new year on this matter. He said the door is also not closed to potentially formally joining the appeal put forward by Emily Toews and Lis Stannus on the permit.

O’Driscoll said the path forward is primarily up to Unifor’s legal team. He said the union fully supports modernization “but not at all costs.”

Toews and Stannus recently concluded their own hearing process on their appeal of RTA’s approved environmental permit and await a decision.

Rio Tinto Alcan has consistently stood by their decision not to install scrubbers, saying environmental reports the company has commissioned show the impacts from the SO2 will not significantly impact the health of people in the Kitimat area.

RTA spokesperson Kevin Dobbin says the company is reviewing the ruling.

“Right now the judicial review has just come out…so we’re taking our time with our legal and internal teams to review it, to see exactly what it means and then we’ll be able to make some comments after that.”

Within the arguments of this ruling is while there are environmental thresholds quantified for environmental health affects there is no thresholds relating to human health.