NEWS RELEASE · 18th March 2015
Unifor 2301 files in court to limit toxic emissions from Rio Tinto smelter
KITIMAT, BC, March 17, 2015 /CNW/ - Unifor says that increased sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions are a major public health threat and is going to court to stop it. Local 2301 filed for a Judicial Review in the Supreme Court of British Columbia this morning to challenge an October 2014 decision to allow the Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. aluminum smelter expansion to proceed without installing SO2 scrubbers.
The project will increase SO2 emissions will increase from 27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day.
"The BC Liberal government must take the threat to public health in Kitimat seriously," said Rick Belmont, Unifor Local 2301 President. "The union is taking action to protect our community and future generations."
Airborne sulphur dioxide is a well-known cause of respiratory ailments. Excessive SO2 levels in Kitimat are likely already impacting human health. In July 2012 a Community Health Synopsis study published by Northern Health concluded that the incidence of death from bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma is 60 per cent higher in Kitimat than the British Columbian average. Expert evidence known to the Minister of the Environment reveals that increased SO2 can cause serious health problems, including fatal respiratory failure.
The $5 billion expansion project restricts only the daily emissions of sulphur dioxide rather than restricting the emissions to averages within shorter 5- or 10-minute intervals. Human health effects from SO2 arise from "spikes" of concentration of airborne SO2. A daily emissions limit is a measure of production capacity, not a mitigation limit for human health.
"Our 950 members at the Rio Tinto smelter are at ground zero for emissions. This is an unacceptable health and safety risk," said Scott Doherty, Assistant to the Unifor National President.
Unifor's court challenge also asserts that the decision-making process was biased. One of the key Ministry of the Environment employees dealing on a full-time basis with the new smelter was on the payroll of Rio Tinto. This government employee was acting as the regulatory authority and providing consulting advice to Rio Tinto at the same time.
Unifor also objects to the failure to limit Rio Tinto's SO2 emissions on economic grounds. It says that allowing Rio Tinto to overfill the Kitimat air shed with SO2 restricts the potential for industrial expansion in Kitimat, costs jobs, and gives Rio Tinto a local monopoly on SO2 emissions.
Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 305,000 workers. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions merged.