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Nickel at the port of Quebec: the Ministry of the Environment cracks down on Glencore

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The presence of ships like the Arvik 1 coincides with the increase in nickel emissions into ambient air, according to the Ministry of the Environment. (Archive photo)

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An investigation by the Ministry of the Environment concludes that there is “a relationship” between the activities of mining company Glencore, at the port of Quebec, and the increase in nickel concentrations in the air of Limoilou, we learned Radio-Canada. The multinational is also blamed for having maintained its transshipment activities despite equipment breakdowns last year.

These findings follow of a vast investigation carried out over 18 months by the Ministry of the Environment, as part of its reinforced control plan, put in place in 2022. This plan, announced by Minister Benoit Charette, accompanied the x27;reduction of the nickel standard and aimed to improve air quality in Lower Town of Quebec.

In total, around fifty inspections were carried out throughout the territory of the port of Quebec, in all companies, including Glencore.< /p>

The analysis, supported by sampling campaigns and laboratory tests, particularly targeted the fluctuations in nickel concentrations noted at the Québec–Vieux-Limoilou station, located near the Glencore port facilities, at #x27;mouth of the Saint-Charles River.

The work revealed a link with the activities of the mining giant. With electron microscopy, we were able to identify the signature specific to Glencore nickel, explains Marie-Josée Poulin, head of the General Directorate of Environmental Control for the Capitale-Nationale.

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The air quality measuring station in Vieux-Limoilou has recorded four exceedances since December 2022, the most recent of which dates from November 16, 2023.

The link with Glencore, she said, was made by comparing the nickel compounds found in the company's infrastructure at the port of Quebec and those captured in the filters of the Quebec sampling station –Vieux-Limoilou, on the dates when the concentrations were the highest.

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ELSE ON NEWS: Inflation continues to decline in Canada and stood at 2.8% in February< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Three exceedances of the nickel standard particularly attracted the attention of the ministry, between December 17, 2022 and January 6, 2023, which oscillated between 120 and 151 nanograms per cubic meter of air.

The standard for nickelin ambient air is set at a maximum of 70 nanogramsper cubic meter of air, in increments of 24 hours, and at an annual average of 20 nanograms per cubic meter of air.

For two of the exceedances, the analysis demonstrated the presence of pentlandite. This form of nickel comes from Raglan Mine, Nunavik, and is transshipped from the Arvik 1, an icebreaking cargo ship commissioned by Glencore three years ago.

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The icebreaker Arvik 1 transports nickel from Raglan Mine to Quebec. (Archive photo)

As for the other excess, it was rather nickel matte that was found in the sampling station. This compound is obtained after the transformation of pentlandite in a Sudbury foundry, also belonging to Glencore.

On the day the standard in question was exceeded, a bulk carrier was at the dock to load the substance before transporting it to mining facilities in Norway.

Even more broadly, Quebec analyzed other increases in nickel concentration during its 18 months of monitoring, even those not exceeding the Quebec standard.

In the majority of cases, the presence of boats used by Glencore matched these increases, once again making it possible to establish a link with mining.

There is a relationship between the cycle of ships berthing at Glencore facilities and the increase nickel concentrations measured in ambient air.

A quote from Marie-Josée Poulin, director of environmental control at the Ministry for the National Capital

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Glencore is the only company in the port of Quebec to handle nickel. (File photo)

Almost all of Glencore's transshipment activities take place under cover, with the exception of the opening of ship holds.

Pentlandite, much finer than matte, is transhipped from Arvik 1 under the effect of a misting system aimed at reducing dust. While the process certainly helps, the mitigation measure is not sufficient, the Ministry of the Environment concludes today.

Among the factors calling Glencore into question, Marie-Josée Poulin finally indicates that the company is the only one to handle products with high nickel contents at the Port from Quebec.

Two of the three exceedances of the standard measured during the ministerial investigation took place while Glencore carried out its activities despite inadequate equipment, the investigation by the Ministry of the Environment also concluded.

More precisely, Glencore is criticized for not having maintained in good operating condition and not having optimally used equipment making it possible to reduce the release of contaminants in the environment, between December 29, 2022 and January 6, 2023, indicates the Ministry in a report which will be made public on Tuesday.

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Glencore facilities at the port of Quebec. (File photo)

The breakages in question concern the nickel loading arm and the Glencore warning system used for transshipment . A notice of non-compliance was issued on February 29. The company has until April 1 to submit a corrective action plan.

If the situation persists, other measures could be taken by Quebec, up to and including a fine. For now, the company has cooperated with the ministry during inspections and the government investigation, maintains Marie-Josée Poulin.

However, she indicates that Quebec will continue to apply its control plan. This is not the end, it is only the beginning. Another excess of the nickel standard, on November 16, is currently being analyzed. The Arvik 1 was docked at the time of the measurement of 171 nanograms per cubic meter of air.

Ms. Poulin insists that each situation will be treated individually, without regard to the standard. It is not because the standard is exceeded that there is necessarily a breach [and non-compliance]. Conversely, spikes can be associated with violations even if below the standard.

Besides Glencore, 11 other notices of non-compliance of lesser importance have been sent to different companies, most of them present at the port, since January 2022.

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Table summarizing the notices of non-compliance issued by the Department, from 2022 to 2024.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, the Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, said he was satisfied with this first assessment of the reinforced control plan and the results of the investigation, which clarify the role of Glencore in the concentrations of nickel captured in Vieux-Limoilou.

We suspected the activities [of Glencore] as being responsible for the excesses of the standard of nickel in the environment. We established this link between the activities of the company and particularly between the passages of the boat which delivers the nickel and the dates of overruns, he summarizes.

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The Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, is satisfied with the measures taken to ensure control of air quality in Limoilou. (File photo)

However, he does not intend to modify the nickel standard to return to stricter thresholds. The standard is very comfortable. We have an annual standard that is fully respected. The daily norm, only a few exceedances occurred.

C' It is a good thing to know what the cause is in order to be able to correct it.

A quote from Benoit Charette, Minister of the Environment of Quebec

The control plan announced alongside the City is working, he maintains, welcoming the collaboration of the port of Quebec and the City in this matter. In the end, it is the environment that is improved.

Mr. Charette now expects Glencore to make the necessary corrections. The minister also hopes that the company will continue to optimize its facilities at the port of Quebec, especially since it intends to stay there in the long term. From the moment we confirm the wish to stay for 25 years, I will expect additional investments.

Glencore is indeed just coming to open a new mine in Nunavik, within the Raglan Mine complex.

Source: Ministry of the Environment , the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks

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