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Pace of Dofasco upgrades ‘very frustrating,’ Environment Hamilton says

But executive director heartened by public’s interest

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The executive director of Environment Hamilton says she’s disappointed but not surprised public criticisms haven’t budged the province’s plan to give ArcelorMittal Dofasco five years to cut pollution from its coke ovens.

Lynda Lukasik said she didn’t expect a final “preventative measures order” issued by the Ministry of the Environment on July 29 to have any real changes because a draft version put out for public comment had been drawn up with the steelmaker’s consent.

But she said she still finds the pace of $87 million in promised upgrades “very, very frustrating” because the company has up to 120 days to start work even though the earlier draft version proposed to give it only 60 days once a plan was in place.

“The plan already exists already, so come on, get them rolling,” Lukasik said, criticizing Dofasco’s previous “inadequate” 2010 plan to spend $16.6 million on the ovens for already falling shy of promised results, as her group had predicted.

“This is such a serious problem and it’s taking so long to get serious action.”

The order requires Dofasco to permanently close, by the end of next March,  Coke Plant #1, blamed for more than half of the air violations that saw it fined $390,000 in June after pleading guilty to six of 13 charges.

The company estimates the shutdown and upgrades will cut cancer-causing benzo(a)pyrene and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons emissions by 54 per cent, and benzene by 46 per cent.

According the ministry’s decision notice posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry, the plan drew 35 comments, including that five years is too long and Dofasco is being given a “free pass” to pollute until the upgrades are completed.

As it has previously, the ministry rejected those and other objections.

“Five years is a reasonable timeframe to complete projects of this size and scope,” it said, vowing to continue to take action if the company runs afoul of the order or standard operating procedures “and prosecute where appropriate.”

Lukasik said she’s “pleasantly surprised” by the number of people who commented on the order, a level of community engagement she’s also seen on a controversial garbage-to-gas plant proposed in the north end.

“Ten years ago we wouldn’t have seen that in the same way,” she said. “I think it’s a really healthy evolution of Hamilton. Hamiltonians are setting the bar higher.”

In a written statement in response to concerns raised by her group in June, Dofasco said the upgrades show it “both plans and reacts appropriately and responsibly where there may be environmental or community impact from operations.”

“This strategy, which includes extensive work including flue repairs, oven wall repairs, as well as work to by-products plants, will bring significant improvement to the efficiency and environmental performance of the coke-making plants,” it said.

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