Pollution issues threaten Glencore smelter in Canada

Aerial view of Glencore's Horne Smelter.

The Glencore smelter in Horne is facing public concerns about air pollution. | Courtesy of Glencore

Quebec’s top government official hinted that public concerns about air pollution could prompt the province to close Glencore’s Horne smelter, a key downstream source of North America’s e-waste.

While regulators consider renewing the smelter’s air quality permit, Glencore has committed to investing over CA$500 million (approximately US$364 million) to reduce air pollution from the smelter. The century-old smelter in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, accepts e-waste and other scrap materials and produces intermediate copper and precious metal products.

The closure of the smelter, which produces 210,000 tons of copper and precious metals annually, would have a serious impact on downstream e-waste flows in North America.

In late September, just before the provincial elections, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said in a radio interview that residents of Rouyn-Noranda would decide whether to close the smelter, which authorities are allowed to exceed emission standards. Legault is leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec party, which held several seats in Quebec’s National Assembly, the province’s legislative body, before the Oct. 3 election and retained a majority thereafter.

Legault’s comments came amid protests outside the smelter where local residents were concerned about arsenic emissions. They also came as the provincial Ministry of Environment reviewed the company’s application for an extension of its air quality permit.

According to a report by CTV News, the smelter is allowed to emit up to 100 nanograms of arsenic per cubic meter, while the standard elsewhere in Quebec is 3 nanograms per cubic meter. The Horne Smelter’s five-year permit must be extended through November 2022, the outlet reported. The provincial Ministry of Environment is currently reviewing the renewal of the permit, including the requirements to be met under the permit.

In August, Glencore announced an investment in air pollution abatement equipment designed to reduce arsenic emissions in the immediate vicinity of the facility to 15 nanograms per cubic meter over the next five years. It uploaded a document detailing the project.

“This transformative project demonstrates that our top priority is to ensure the safety of our teams as well as that of our neighboring communities,” said Claude Bélanger, chief operating officer of Glencore’s North American Copper Assets, in an August 18 press release. “The investments we are planning will make the Horne Smelter one of the lowest-emission copper smelters in the world.”

The facility isn’t the only one raising public concerns about air pollution in North America. Germany-based metals company Aurubis is facing opposition from environmentalists concerned about air pollution from a secondary smelter the company is planning in Augusta, Georgia.

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