Hamilton councillors seek review, express opposition to emissions exemptions for steelmakers

The steelmaking facilities of Arcelor Mittal Dofasco are pictured in Hamilton, Ontario, on December 27, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Stephen C. Host. CP

A councillor is hoping to hear from the province and Hamilton, Ont., steel makers on future plans to mitigate emissions from the industry prior to a vote on whether the city should voice opposition to extensions of air pollution exemptions.

West Central Mountain’s Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko says he’s surprised the city’s heard nothing about any potential plan from neither the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks nor steel vendors on reducing carcinogens.

“It’s kind of surprising that something this big and this important is having a deadline coming up in just a few months,” Danko told Global News Radio’s Kelly Cutrara Show.

“We’ve heard nothing about what their mitigation plans are or if they’re going to seek an exemption or what’s happening with it.”

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Danko shared his concerns with his colleagues in council during a recent board of health meeting as a report from Clean Air Hamilton revealed benzene and benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) levels in 2021 surpassed acceptable annual objective targets set by the province.

During a query directed at the city’s manager of health hazards and vector-borne diseases Matt Lawson, Danko used ArcelorMittal Dofasco as an example of an operation he says has a site-specific exemption allowing it to emit 22 times the provincial standard for benzene and an okay to emit above regulated limits for BaP.

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Lawson confirmed Danko’s question on the ministry exemption, granted in 2014, acknowledging it was given to steelmakers to seek pollution control technology knowing they could not meet provincially set targets.

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The idea was to give a reprieve for up to 10 years while the companies came up with a plan to reduce emissions to more acceptable levels.

Lawson said the site standards are expiring this year and would either require a renewal, or not, should the ministry just enact a sector-specific standard for steelmaking applied to all companies in Ontario.

“As far as what will happen, I can’t tell you at this point,” Lawson said.

“But you’re right about the date approaching. July 1 is when the exemptions expire.”

A majority of councillors voted in favour of directing staff to review the impacts of site-specific air standards granted to steel-making sectors, additionally asking Mayor Andrea Horwath to contact the ministry of the environment and articulate the city’s opposition to extensions.

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Prior to passing the motion, which needs ratification by council next week, Horwath cautioned removal of an extension would mean steel businesses potentially would lose the ability to operate.

“We should be thinking about … having information about the impacts of that kind of action before taking that action,” Horwath said.

“We might have unintended consequences that we are not aware of at this particular table.”

Upper Stoney Creek Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark, who was one of few that voted against the motion, echoed Horwath’s concerns suggesting the actions would be “premature.”

He said he wanted to hear more from the ministry of environment and companies like ArcelorMittal Dofasco on where they are in their discussions.

“Are they moving forward with an abatement program which they had indicated that early on they were working towards?” Clark asked.

“We don’t have that yet.”

Danko told Global News what’s at stake is the health of low-income residents who have historically endured “bigger socio-economic impacts” being adjacent to the city’s industrial sector.

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“Tying that to what Dofasco’s emissions are, I think would be difficult,” Danko said.

“But for sure, as a city, we do have a legacy of health impacts from industry.”

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