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Public health provides update on arsenic emissions in Montreal’s east end

Click to play video 'Air quality in Montreal’s east end not as pure as it could be' Air quality in Montreal’s east end not as pure as it could be
WATCH: Montreal Public Health Department says there is an elevated amount of arsenic in the air in the City's east end. The health authority says the culprit is a local copper processing plant and while the company is working with health authorities to improve the situation, the levels in the air are not quite where they should be. Global’s Dan Spector reports. – Jul 22, 2020

Montreal public health released its findings on arsenic emissions in the air in east-end Montreal on Wednesday.

The analysis of data collected for 2019 shows a decrease in arsenic concentrations in the air around the CCR copper refinery.

The report is a follow-up to a 2018 study regarding arsenic emissions from the refinery in Montreal-East that showed arsenic levels in the air were above the provincial norm.

“At the time, we recommended, among other things, that measuring stations be put in place so that we could better understand the levels of arsenic in the air and understand also the impact of the investments and the measures that the company took in order to reduce their emissions,” said Dr. David Kaiser, who is responsible for environmental health within the department of public health.

Read more: Inspections, prosecutions for polluting have dropped sharply in Canada since 2015

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CCR followed the recommendations to improve its facilities and installed a dust collector in the refinery’s foundry section — responsible for the majority of the arsenic emissions — as well as two air sampling stations.

Caroline Bourgeois, mayor of the east-end borough of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, said the work carried out by the company has led to encouraging results.

“They show a 50-per cent reduction in the annual emissions and 55 reduction over an eight-hour period,” she said.

“The close monitoring carried out by the city, combined with the company’s good faith and concrete actions, have contributed to the reduction of arsenic emissions in the east end of Montreal.”

Despite the progress, Kaiser noted there is still room for improvement.

Two of the three sampling stations set up following the 2018 report still exceed the provincial standard for arsenic, he said.

Read more: Canada’s big cities see air pollution fall by a third amid COVID-19 pandemic: Environment Canada

As a result, public health officials are issuing a new set of recommendations.

In the short term, they want CCR to maintain its monitoring stations and continue measuring for arsenic and other potentially dangerous metals. The goal is to continue decreasing emissions.

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In a news release the company said it was satisfied with the results it had obtained after making the required changes in 2018, but reiterated its commitment “to continue monitoring atmospheric concentrations of metals at sampling stations as well as to continuously improve the mitigation measures in place.”

Officials specified the refinery will continue to “bear the cost of operating the sampling stations and third party data analysis to ensure integrity and compliance.”

The second recommendation, directed at the City of Montreal, touches upon the issue of transparency.

Kaiser said an integrated public surveillance system would allow the population to have access to data collected at measuring stations and better understand air quality in their part of the city.

The city also needs to work on identifying other sources of arsenic to be able to control them.

Read more: Health Canada says it will set limit on arsenic in food — including baby cereal

Bourgeois agreed and said investigations are already underway.

“One of the conclusions of the study is that CCR is not the only source of arsenic in the sector,” she said. “The city of Montreal is investigating to identify and measure other sources so they can be reduced at the source to finally respect emission standards,” she said.

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Despite the notion of a dangerous metal being found in the air, Kaiser had somewhat reassuring words.

“Risk to health is low and progess can be made quickly,” he said, citing the CCR results as an example. “That doesn’t change that there is a risk to health, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this work.”

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