In response to a recent report to the contrary, Sault Ste. Marie’s member of provincial parliament says the Ministry of Environment has assured him emission levels at Algoma Steel Inc. have not increased and there has been no changes in operation at the facility.
Earlier this week, dozens of faculty members at Algoma University signed a letter addressed to MP Terry Sheehan and MPP Ross Romano titled "Urgent Action: Revoke Pollution Regulation Exemptions for Algoma Steel Inc."
It cites a recently published National Observer article that states the steel mill has been "releasing excessive amounts of benzene and particulate matter, leading to serious health and environmental concerns for the residents of the surrounding communities."
The article is written by Sault Ste. Marie native Dax D'Orazio, an academic and researcher who is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow in political studies at Queen's University.
“The report states that the emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen, have exceeded the acceptable limits set by the provincial government,” said the faculty members in the letter. “The levels of sulfur dioxide, which is harmful to the respiratory system and can cause asthma and other respiratory diseases, have also been found to be dangerously high.”
They asked the elected members in the Sault to take urgent action to address the issue.
Reached for comment, Romano told SooToday he has received the letter and read the article it referenced.
Romano said he has contacted the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks for more information.
“The issues raised are serious in nature,” said Romano. “As a lifelong resident of Sault Ste. Marie, I am personally impacted by the health and safety performance of our largest employer.”
Romano said Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks has assured him that Algoma Steel follows the Local Air Quality Regulation site-specific standard approach. The ministry told him Algoma Steel has applied for new air pollution exemptions — known as site-specific standards — and updated its Emissions Summary and Dispersion Model report.
”Modelling conducted as part of this exercise used the latest model version available at the time and is consistent with [ministry] and US EPA guidance,” said Romano. “This includes the use of the 'rural' dispersion model setting, which is a more appropriate measure of the dispersion at the site.”
Romano said the steel plant is required to conduct daily visible emission audits on the coke ovens and is required to notify the ministry of all process upsets that result in "opacity levels above 20 percent that last over six minutes."
Algoma Steel and Sheehan did not respond to requests for comment sent this week by SooToday.
That application for new site-specific standards is under review by the ministry, said Romano. He notes there will be an opportunity for residents to comment as part of the process.
“Any comments received will be considered when making a decision about the new site-specific standards,” said Romano.
“As our community’s Member of Provincial Parliament, I must ensure that I represent the needs of our community to the highest standard,” said Romano. “I believe that there is a great deal to be optimistic about as a result of recent investments at Algoma Steel to help reduce emissions and produce a cleaner product. While saying that, I also realize it will take time to get there and we must ensure we are holding all of our businesses to a high standard when it comes to the health and safety of workers and members of our community. I will continue to monitor these concerns through communication with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.”