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REPORTING · 16th March 2013
Walter McFarlane
Rio Tinto Alcan is Modernizing and upgrading to new technology. While the technology is better for the Environment then what they are currently using, RTA anticipates that emissions of SO2 will increase as a result. All this month, they are holding consultation meeting with the public to gain input on the changes to the emission.

“What we’re doing is official consultation meetings for Rio Tinto Alcan’s Modernization Project. We’re applying for an increase in our P2 Multimedia Permit,” said Colleen Nyce, Rio Tinto Alcan, Manager of Corporate Affairs, Community Relations and Communications to a crowded room on Friday, March 8th.
She passed the floor to Kerry Moran, KMP Director of Operations and Director of Operations for the new Smelter.

He explained how most of the emissions will be lower than they are currently, but one of them, Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) will increased. As such, Rio Tinto Alcan wants to increase their permitted emissions from 27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day.

Moran told the crowded room the changes to the emissions were known pretty much from the start of the project and have been looking at their projected emissions. However, they needed to know the science behind the emissions and do a review of the valley before they could go to the public.

Moran explained how the consultation process would work before starting the presentation.

“In terms of overall environmental performance, the Modernization of the plant is really a fantastic outcome in terms of environmental performance. The total overall reductions in emissions from a new plant will be almost 50%. That’s not 50% per amount of aluminium made, it’s a total net reduction of 50%,” said Moran. He explained the projected increase in SO2 of an estimated 56% is included in the overall 50% reduction.

The new technology captures the fumes and treats them before being released. In several cases, the contents of the emissions can go back into the pot for reuse. In the case of Aluminium fluoride, which is pricy, it is a cost saving measure to the plant as well as a significant emissions reduction.

Moran went into detail about the Sulphur content. It comes from the carbon they are using in the pots. They come to Rio Tinto Alcan from the petroleum industry. Because of declining crude oil quality available, the content of the current by-product Carbon is more sulphurous. According to Moran, the carbon is about 2-3% sulphur.

An SO2 Scrubber has other inherent risks as it could potentially create a larger problem. The reason is SO2 scrubbers typically transfer the sulphur to another medium, usually sea water or solid waste.

To learn more Rio Tinto Alcan put a team of five experts together to put the picture into perspective and understand the environmental impact around Kitimat. One focused on Soil, one focused on lakes and streams, one focused on vegetation, one focused on human health and one for modeling. They looked into how far they would travel in the valley.

Moran showed a map with the SO2 Spread. He told how SO2 was a commonly understood emission, as it is quite common. They know just where the SO2 Concentration will be and can measure where it will have the most effect. They have confidence there will be no impact to the plants. The effect on vegetation was found to be light.

Rio Tinto Alcan has taken many samples of soil to measure the soil’s capacity to deal with the SO2. They need to understand the contents of the soil to understand how it absorbs Sulphur. There are areas where the soil will be impacted but it is only .1% of the studied area and it is located between the Smelter and Eurocan. It will be monitored.

Water is sampled and examined similarly to soil. Moran said it was a sensitive area for this part of the world. They looked at lakes and streams in an extensive study. The experts predict no streams will be impacted, including the Kitimat River. On the other hand, 1% of the lakes may be impacted. The water of the lakes varies from lake to lake.

Two of the lakes which are expected to be impacted have names, West Lake and End Lake. The other 5 are un-named.

As for human health, Moran explained the prediction concentrations of SO2 would be nothing more than what would be experienced in Montreal and Vancouver. The experts told them that “At those Levels, SO2 does not cause problems. It doesn’t cause a healthy person to become impacted,” said Moran. “Unfortunately, not everyone is healthy. About 12% of the population of Kitimat and Terrace has a challenge in their lungs, COPD or Asthma.” These individuals may see a very slight increase in restricted airways events, of the order of a 1% increase.

Moran explained if those individuals are exercising outside in the SO2 Levels, there is a slightly increased chance that this would result in a respiratory event.

While it is clear that the Ministry of Environment asked Rio Tinto Alcan to look at the issue of increased S02 from the new smelter in isolation, the studies did not factor in the significant health and other benefits from the great decreases in PAHs, Fluorides, Particulates and GHGs.

For further information on how the SO2 would affect you, Rio Tinto Alcan is continuing their consultation through the month of March. Colleen Nyce asked that anyone who would like to participate in any of the community group meetings to please let her know by way of the Community Office in City Centre Mall or by email to colleen.nyce,,,
Another Example of "Well, We Told You So!"
Comment by Bill Vollrath on 21st June 2013
The Joint Review Panel on the Enbridge pipeline is the smoke and mirrors on that project. The town hall meetings on the PTI construction crew, industrial camp within walking distance of downtown Kitimat were the smoke screen on that one. And these supposed "consultations" with the Kitimat public are how RTA will be able to say, "Well, we told you the S02 deposits into the atmosphere were going to be almost double what they used to be. You wanted aluminum production increased? Well, you got it." I'm tired of being patronised by government, banks, insurance companies and big corporations. But there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. They ignore what you say at their "consultation meetings" or "town hall meetings" but if you don't go to these meetings they'll assume you don't mind or care about what they're doing. Very frustrating!
Profit Trumps Public Health
Comment by Purple Rain on 29th March 2013
If you believe Sulphur Dioxide will have no impact on your health, get your head out of the sand. SO2 mixed with PAH is a known carcinogen. I submit that an independant study is an absolute must if citizens of Kitimat wish to weight the truth. The ommision of available scrubbing equipment is a board room decision most often reserved for third world countries, and we should be embarrassed left unchallenged. One environmental step forward and two steps back is hardly a selling point. Now imagine that with an LNG Plant or Refinery.
Maryland study of options for reducing SO2 from EastAlco
Comment by David on 16th March 2013
Hard to know what to make of the request. I have found the following link helpful in understanding options and costs related to the aluminum industry.

I wonder if all elements of reduction including the anode bake furnace have been examined. It would be great to reduce SO2 pollution especially with other proposed projects in the area.