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Steel mill hires consultant to stop oil spills (7 Algoma briefs)

WSP Engineering has been retained to prevent future discharges like the one that occurred on June 9, 2022

Algoma Steel Group Inc. has retained one of the world's largest engineering and professional services companies to prevent oil spills like the one that prompted an emergency declaration for Echo Bay last year.

"To avoid future incidents, we are currently working with a consulting firm to investigate and implement plant-wide oil loss prevention initiatives," the Sault steelmaker discloses in its inaugural ESG (environmental, social, governance) report.

"We have created a spill prevention work plan which is supported by WSP Engineering to implement a variety of risk mitigation measures related to preventing spills," Laura Devoni, Algoma's director of corporate affairs and sustainability, tells SooToday.

With global headquarters in Montreal, WSP has more than 68,000 employees including 12,000 professionals in Canada.

Last week, the company was named to Fortune magazine's Change the World 2023 list, which honours companies that have positive social impact through activities that are part of their core business strategies.

"We experienced an incident on June 9, 2022, where oil-based lubricant was released from our hot mill in Sault Ste. Marie," says Algoma's ESG report, released on Sept. 12.

"The oil entered our water treatment facility, and some quantity of the oil was discharged into the St. Marys River. Working with technical experts, we have been able to ascertain that the estimated amount of oil released was between 1,000 litres (263 gallons) to 1,250 litres (330 gallons), with the amount not likely exceeding 1,250 litres.

"Following the discharge, traffic on the river was temporarily halted. The local public health authority issued a water advisory and a nearby municipality issued a precautionary emergency declaration regarding its municipal water supply.

"We actively worked with our response partners deploying equipment and resources necessary to contain and mitigate the effects of the oil release on the waterway and neighbouring communities to clean up the released oil while working with local, provincial, and federal regulatory authorities.

"The water advisory was lifted by the public health authorities on June 21, 2022, and the U.S. Coast Guard did not see any impact to shoreline or marine wildlife.

"The provincial and federal regulators (Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, and Environment and Climate Change Canada) are each currently investigating this incident but have not laid any charges at the time of this report," the ESG report said.

The following are other items of interest from Algoma Steel sources and recent filings to regulators.

U.S. Steel supply contract extended

Algoma Steel Group Inc. announced Monday that it has negotiated a two-year extension of its existing iron ore purchase contract with United States Steel Corp. with an option to extend for a third year solely at Algoma’s discretion.

"The extended purchase contract is anticipated to cover the expected volumes of iron ore required to complete Algoma’s transition from blast furnace to electric arc furnace steelmaking," the company said.

"We are excited to extend our partnership with U. S. Steel, which we believe not only reinforces our strong collaboration but also aligns with our broader mission of transitioning to more sustainable steelmaking practices," said Algoma's chief executive officer Michael Garcia.

"We believe that the extension of this agreement provides the foundation for a reliable supply chain and uninterrupted access to essential raw materials to meet our production capacity and service the demands of our valued customers throughout North America," Garcia said.

Employment levels up, but not forever

In its 2023 fiscal year, Algoma increased its full-time workforce by five per cent, its contractors employed by 56 per cent, and its co-op program intake by 47 per cent.

"These numbers highlight the greater number of contractors needed for the construction of our EAF [electric arc furnace] project and our continued dedication to helping students gain valuable experience in steelmaking through our co-op program," the company said.

But once the EAF project is completed, employment levels are expected to drop.

"Our staffing levels will transition as we transition to EAF green steelmaking," says Devoni.

"Roles in our labour-intensive primary end will phase out as we shutter primary operations, however new roles associated with electric arc steelmaking steel making will be added.

"Given the state-of-the-art technology being installed, there will be fewer new jobs but the jobs will be more highly skilled.

"Today, there are a significant number of employees eligible for retirement and we anticipate attrition will be a factor in this transition," Devoni tells SooToday.

Slag piles and carcinogenicity

After SooToday published an article last week that mentioned the possibility of Algoma's blast furnace slag causing cancer, the company advised us that it was updating the safety data sheet on its website.

The new version, dated 2021, removed the carcinogenicity information we had cited.

The original 2018 version we cited can be viewed here.

The update can be accessed here.

Indigenous peoples

"As part of our Strategic Innovation Fund Agreement with the federal government for our EAF steelmaking project, Algoma must consult with, or accommodate, any Indigenous groups that may be affected by the terms of the agreement," stated the ESG report.

"Algoma has initiated outreach to a number of Indigenous communities with respect to our transition to EAF steelmaking. Several non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) have been reached with local First Nation communities.

"Algoma has embarked on an NDA with Batchewana First Nation and working groups have been established to discuss electricity and energy requirements, employment, and cultural opportunities, collaborative advocacy on local electricity transmission needs, and other procurement opportunities.

"We have also signed an NDA with Missanabie Cree First Nation to focus on opportunities related to procurement and alternative energy and biomass.

"Informal discussions with Garden River First Nation continue with a commitment to enter into formal discussions on similar economic development opportunities including procurement, biomass, transportation and material processing," the ESG report disclosed.

Buy local

"Building a new era in Algoma’s history through the transition to EAF steelmaking will bring many benefits for the community of Sault Ste. Marie," said the ESG report.

"Along with electric arc furnaces, we plan to construct state-of-the-art fume and water treatment plants. The fume treatment plants will capture air and dust emissions while the water treatment plant conserves water usage by recycling non-contact water from the EAF steelmaking process.

"Also, EAF steelmaking involves using an engineered furnace enclosure for noise abatement. These enclosures feature large doors which seal shut before the arcing process begins, containing any sound, sparks, or dust particles.

"The building design for the EAF includes heavy gauge steel and acoustic insulation to further buffer sound from the operation.

"In addition to positive improvements to air, water, and noise impacts for the community, the EAF construction has, and is expected to continue to, contribute significantly to the local economy.

"As of March 31, 2023 we have spent $55.2 million in the community on constructing the EAF and engaged with 47 local suppliers. Our project spend as of March 31, 2023 was $267 million, from a total estimated project budget of $878 million," the ESG report said.

Cat's meow

Algoma Steel said Monday that it had received top recognition in Caterpillar Inc.'s supplier excellence program.

Not only is Sault steel used to make CAT products, but CAT heavy equipment is widely used at the local mill to make Algoma steel.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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