Pollution | Only eight establishments were allowed to exceed the standards

Only eight industries are allowed to exceed Quebec regulations regarding the release of pollutants into the environment, but they don’t necessarily do so, Quebec said Friday.

Posted at 12:52 p.m
Updated at 5:53 p.m

Jean Thomas Leveille

Jean Thomas Leveille
The press

“In almost all cases, exceedances [autorisés] are minimal,” senior officials from the Department of Environment and Combating Climate Change (MELCC) said during a technical briefing for the media.

This clarification should put an end to the confusion that exists over the nature of the 89 “ministerial authorisations” for industrial establishments that produce pollutants.

Some media recently claimed that these permits allowed the establishments concerned to deviate from the standards in force, a false interpretation that the Minister for the Environment himself admitted.

69 ministerial authorizations impose on their holder “more stringent or similar” requirements than the regulations in force in Quebec, 12 concern facilities that are no longer in operation and the remaining eight allow exceptions; they all concern companies established before the Atmosphere Cleanup Ordinance (RAA) came into force.

Particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and arsenic

The Horne Foundry in Rouyn-Noranda is the “glaring” exception, concedes the MELCC: The company, owned by multinational Glencore, has the right to exceed the Quebec standard for arsenic concentrations in air by 33 times.

Next is Elkem Metal Canada, based in the city of Saguenay, which is permitted to produce an annual average of fine particles of 244 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3).⁠3), more than eight times the Quebec limit of 30 µg/m⁠3.

It is also subject to a limit value of 456 µg/m⁠3 for total particulates, which is almost four times the Quebec limit of 120 µg/m⁠3.

The WestRock plant in La Tuque can produce twice as much nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the air as permitted by Quebec law; ie 828 µg/m⁠3 instead of 414 µg/m⁠3as well as various other impurities (see table).

Compliance with the limits imposed on these companies is checked through planned and unplanned inspections, explains the MELCC, which conducts between 27,000 and 28,000 annually.

In Temiscaming, the Tembec plant has no limit on its sulfur dioxide (SO2).

shadow zone

The MELCC confirms that the eight facilities that are permitted to pollute beyond Quebec standards do not necessarily do so.

However, he admits he doesn’t know if they actually exceed Quebec’s standards, with the exception of Rio Tinto Alcan’s two plants in Saguenay, which are on the list, and Nordic Kraft’s pulp mill in Lebel-sur-Quévillon.

Another ambiguity remains: the Nordic Kraft factory’s ministerial approval stipulates that the regulations in force take precedence over the provisions of the document, meaning they are not entitled to exceed the standards, the company argues.

“It’s completely insane to create such confusion,” complains Frédéric Verreault, executive director of corporate development at Chantiers Chibougamau, which owns the plant.

He claims to have brought this contradiction to the attention of the MELCC, who told him to share his interpretation.

MELCC did not respond to requests for clarification from The press at the time of this writing.

Another gray area: when the MELCC confirms that certain industries are eligible to exceed Quebec standards, it appears to refer only to pollutants whose discharges are marked by their ministerial approval.

In fact, however, these facilities sometimes reject a variety of other contaminants, and there is nothing to indicate that these do not exceed the limits set by Quebec regulations.

This is the case, for example, with the Horne Foundry: the MELCC only mentions exceeding the Quebec standard for the concentration of arsenic in air and says nothing about its emissions of lead, cadmium and many other metalloids, which are not framed by its ministerial authority.

In collaboration with Tristan PeloquinThe press

What is a ministerial authorisation?

Ministerial permits (formerly called decontamination certificates) regulate discharges from pollutant-producing industrial plants. “It’s like a tailor-made regulation for a company, a legal instrument,” says a senior official at the Ministry of Environment and Climate Protection. Ministerial approvals are therefore intended to gradually reduce pollutant inputs from establishments to bring them into line with standards for companies established before the regulation came into force. In some cases, they also aim to push the institutions governing them to go beyond the standards in force, in a process of continuous improvement. The Quebec government gradually established and supervised two areas of activity: first the pulp and paper industry in 1993 (the first certificates were issued in 2000), then the minerals industry and primary metals in 2002.

The eight facilities Quebec says it authorizes to exceed standards

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