Quebec to move 200 households away from Horne Smelter in Rouyn-Noranda

Houses in the Notre-Dame district are located a few metres from the site of the Horne smelter.  (Annie-Claude Luneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Houses in the Notre-Dame district are located a few metres from the site of the Horne smelter. (Annie-Claude Luneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Quebec government expects to spend $85 million to move about 200 households farther away from the Horne smelter in Rouyn-Noranda, north of the Notre-Dame district. The story was first reported in La Presse Wednesday and confirmed by Radio-Canada.

Glencore, the owner of the copper smelter, would buy and demolish about 80 buildings to create a new buffer zone around the factory, which produces arsenic fumes and other pollutants.

Quebec will help build a new neighbourhood and move people there.

The Legault government is expected to make the announcement on Thursday in Rouyn-Noranda.

The province will take the opportunity to present the smelter's next polluting emission objectives.

The factory will be required to reach an arsenic emissions ceiling of 15 nanograms (ng) per cubic metre (m3) within five years. But the company will also have to adopt a long-term plan to reach the provincial standard of three ng/m3.

Ryan Remiorz/The Candian Press
Ryan Remiorz/The Candian Press

Environment Minister Benoit Charette will be in Rouyn-Noranda to unveil the government's action plan and the new ministerial authorisation, which has already been sent to Glencore.

The major redevelopment targets 191 dwellings, themselves divided into 90 units, 80 of which are residential.

Contentious arsenic emission limit

Quebec will go ahead with the 15 ng/m3 of arsenic threshold, despite the fact that most residents of Rouyn-Noranda consider it too high.

Although public health said the threshold was acceptable until the target of 3 ng/m3 could be achieved, 57 per cent of the population opposes it, according to a public consultation carried out last year. In the Notre-Dame district, 70 per cent of people rejected it.

Glencore and the Quebec government agree that reaching the 3 ng/m3 standard remains out of reach in the short term.

Until now, the Horne Foundry had the right to emit a maximum of 100 ng/m³ of arsenic into the air, or 33 times the Quebec standard.

An unacceptable decision, according to QS

Québec Solidaire (QS), which lost the riding of Rouyn-Noranda–Témiscamingue to the Coalition Avenir Québec in the last election, is calling for a public consultation with locals to discuss the move, since a meeting never took place.

If, at the end of these consultations, a move appears inevitable and the population reaches a consensus, the party is demanding that the Horne Foundry foot the bill.

QS co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois expressed his surprise and annoyance to the National Assembly press gallery on Wednesday morning.

"Instead of bringing the multinational to heel, the CAQ will ask 200 families to pack their bags," he said. "And what's more, we're going to put public money into the operation, as if Glencore International didn't have the means to meet Quebec's environmental obligations."

"The decision is unacceptable, and it demonstrates the CAQ's real priorities in this file."