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1,100 tonnes of reactive hazardous waste in Val-des-Sources

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Nov20,2023

1100 tons of bangs ;reactive hazardous waste in Val-des-Sources

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The interior of the Tergeo foundry. (Archive photo)

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The company Tergeo stores at Val-des-Sources 1,100 tonnes of flammable hazardous waste in maritime containers, the equivalent of the weight of 78 city buses, Radio-Canada has learned. The future of these reactive materials remains uncertain, as the company placed itself under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in September.

Tergeo's magnesium production process generates sludge in the furnaces which is considered hazardous waste.

They mainly contain salts (NaCl, CaCl2, MgCl2), oxides (MgO, Al2O3, CaO), metals (Mg, Al) nitrides (Mg3N2, Al2N3) and fluorides (CaF2, MgF2), according to a document prepared by the company to which we had access.

These materials classified as electrolysis and foundry by-products (SPEF) are reactive. If they are stored in poor conditions, they can explode, according to professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Sherbrooke, Gervais Soucy. These are materials that react with humidity, he explains. They can generate flammable gases such as hydrogen or ammonia.

Always stay below the flammability limit of gases in order to avoid an explosion.

A quote from Gervais Soucy, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology Engineering at the University of Sherbrooke

The Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks (MELCCFP) carried out an inspection last September which revealed the presence of 1,100 tonnes of this waste on the site of Val-des-Sources in waterproof maritime containers, i.e. 600 tonnes more than in September 2022.

The Ministry noted the presence of 34 containers on site. These can hold up to 60 tonnes each, it was specified by email.

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The inside of Tergeo containers.

The ministry declined our interview request, but indicates that the storage is considered safe and has been approved by the government.

These materials are stored on site temporarily, until Tergeo develops an on-site processing method. No hazardous materials processing site in the country would want to receive these reactive materials, according to written statements from Tergeo sent to the government a few months ago.

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These containers are used for the storage of hazardous residual materials Tergeo.

Tergeo's communications manager declined our interview request, explaining that she no longer had a mandate for the latter. We attempted to contact the company's president and CEO, François Perras, on several occasions, but without success.

While Tergeo has placed itself under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, there are concerns over the issue of liability and waste oversight.

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The co-director of the Estrie Regional Environmental Council, Philippe-David Blanchette.

The co-director of the Estrie Regional Environmental Council, Philippe-David Blanchette, would like to be reassured by the authorities.

What's scary, in fact, is that by placing ourselves under the Bankruptcy Protection Act, we don't know if there will still be employees to work [carry out the inspections], underlines -il.

The [Ministry of the Environment] will maintain monitoring rigor of the situation.

A quote from Written statement from the MELCCFP communications team

The MELCCFP, however, claims to be in contact with various government stakeholders to ensure compliance with the company's obligations despite the possibility of bankruptcy.

Tergeo was committed to ensuring regular inspection of containers and taking gas concentration measurements. An approach which notably made it possible in 2022 to identify a broken container, which was repaired, according to documents obtained via the law on access to documents.

Since it is a mining site, the MELCCFP does not know who will be responsible for the waste in the event of Tergeo's bankruptcy.

The ministry is unable to confirm the information at this stage. Verifications are underway with the various government stakeholders involved in the management of this site, we specify by email.

The co-president of the Society to Overcome Pollution, Daniel Green, believes that ultimately the state will be responsible for hazardous waste. This toxic waste risks belonging to us, the tax payers of Quebec, he deplores

If I were a citizen of Danville, of Val-des-Sources, I would be worried about the toxic legacy that Tergeo leaves us.

A quote from Daniel Green, co-president, Society to Overcome Pollution hazardous materials for years. If the company does not have a viable, safe and environmentally acceptable option to manage this waste, the company should not be allowed to continue its operations, he complains.

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Daniel Green, co-chair, Society to Beat Pollution. (File photo)

He recalls that in 1990, an explosion occurred in a ship transporting materials similar to those stored in Val-des-Sources. There was a death in the case of the ship Pollux which was getting rid of old pot linings from the aluminum smelters. There is a significant risk to public safety and the environment.

Radio-Canada has learned that potential investors for the relaunch of Tergeo are asking that the entire cost of environmental remediation of the site be assumed by the State. This involves decontamination work on the premises. The Ministry of the Economy is currently evaluating this option.

These are practices that have been happening for too long in Quebec: privatizing the profits, then socializing the losses.

A quote from Philippe-David Blanchette, co-director, Estrie Regional Environmental Council

Nonsense for the Estrie Regional Environmental Council. I don't think it's a good idea, says Philippe-David Blanchette. They will make money from the extraction, then they will leave so that we can pay for the remediation.

On March 31, 2023, the Ministry of the Environment increased the maximum storage limit for hazardous materials at the Tergeo site from 60 to 2,000 tonnes until September 30, 2025.

A modification agreed at the request of Tergeo who wanted to develop a material processing system on its site. In an exchange of emails between the MELCCFP and the company, obtained by the law on access to documents, we learn that Tergeo maintains that no site [in Canada] for the treatment of residual hazardous materials can accept this material given of its reactive nature.

Professor Gervais Soucy explains that the aluminum industry also had to develop its own treatment process. A process that may require time and investment. Mr. Soucy is therefore not surprised that Tergeo has still not started processing the material. It was necessary to generate enough [waste] to fully understand the characteristics and target the technologies, he explains.

Jean-Pierre Chapleau, former member of the monitoring committee of the Magnola company, which operated a magnesium production plant on the Tergeo site, describes the situation as aberrant. I think the [MELCCFP] has lost its feathers, he laments.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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