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

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar19,2024

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 upward fluctuations 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 #x27;Environnement 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, Radio-Canada has learned. The multinational is also blamed for maintaining its transshipment operations despite equipment breakdowns last year.

These findings result from a vast investigation carried out over 18 months by the Ministry of the Environment, as part of its reinforced control plan, implemented in place in 2022. This plan, announced by Minister Benoit Charette, accompanied the 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 at all operators, including Glencore.

The analysis, the result of several inspections and sampling campaigns, focused in particular on the fluctuations in nickel concentrations observed at the Québec–Vieux-Limoilou station, located near the installations Glencore port facilities, at the mouth of the Saint-Charles River.

The work revealed a link with the operations 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 recorded four exceedances since December 2022, the most recent of which is November 16, 2023.

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

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Three exceedances of the nickel standard particularly attracted the attention of the ministry, between December 17, 2022 and January 6, 2023, oscillating between 120 and 151 nanograms per cubic meter of air.

The nickel standard in ambient air is set at a maximum of 70 nanograms < /strong>per cubic meter of air per 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, a cargo icebreaker commissioned by Glencore three years ago.

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

For the other, it was rather nickel matte that was found in the station sampling. This compound is obtained after transforming pentlandite in a foundry in Sudbury, also belonging to Glencore.

The day the standard involving matte 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 the mining company.

There is a relationship between the cycle of ships docked at Glencore facilities and the #x27;increase in 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 operator at the Port of Quebec to handle nickel. (File photo)

Virtually all of Glencore's transshipment activities take place under cover, with the exception of ;opening of ships' 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.

Marie-Josée Poulin finally calls, among the elements pointing to Glencore, that the company is the only one to handle products with high levels in nickel at the port of Quebec.

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

More specifically, Glencore is accused of not having maintained in good working order and not having optimally used equipment to reduce the release of contaminants into 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 Glencore nickel loading arm and alert system used for operations 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, assures Marie-Josée Poulin.

However, she warns 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.

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]. Points may be associated with violations even if below the standard.

In addition to Glencore, 11 other minor notices of non-compliance were sent to different organizations, most present at the port, since January 2022.

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Table summarizing the notices of non-compliance issued by the Ministry, 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 clarifies 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, it 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.

It's 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 praises, 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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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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