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The family left Quebec city due to arsenic and political inaction

Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette was in Rouyn-Noranda on Wednesday and several citizens were waiting for him. Others, like Maude Letendre, will follow the arsenic discussions from afar, as she decided to leave this “wonderful city” when she began to fear for her family’s health.

“It’s not easy to leave, it takes money, it takes time and it takes energy,” Letendre told The Canadian Press.

He reluctantly left, in 2020, the city where he had lived for 12 years to live in Gaspésie. Before leaving Rouyn-Noranda, she cut her children’s hair and “kept Ziploc bags with the dates where I cut their hair.”

If one day her children have health problems, “we can check the hair to determine if there is arsenic or not.”

Hair or nail testing is indeed one of the methods used to establish exposure to high levels of arsenic.

“I drove my kids out of their world to limit harm […] and I tore my heart to save my body, because you see, my body isn’t working properly, ”Letendre said who says he has stopped having migraines and vertigo since he lived in Gaspésie.

“Is there a link? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor,” the mother asked on the other end of the phone.

The presence of arsenic in the air was of great concern to Letendre, but “the political inaction I noticed was a strong motivator to leave,” because, he says, authorities knew for a long time that the wind Rouyn-Noranda is dangerous. for citizens.

In fact, the government knew for several years that a dangerous situation needed to be corrected. In 2004, in a report entitled “Advice on arsenic in the ambient air in Rouyn-Noranda,” the Ministry of the Environment stressed that “the population is exposed to emissions that sometimes reach 1,000 nanograms/cubic meter. , so [being] 330 times higher than the current provincial standard. “

At the time, the report’s authors asked Horne smelter owners to “submit to MENV (within two months) an intervention plan specifying the schedule and interventions that need to be implemented to reach goal of 3 ng/m3 in the Notre-Dame district. “

Nearly 20 years have passed since that report, and the Glencore-owned smelter currently emits up to 100 nanograms of arsenic per cubic meter (100 ng/m3) into the air, 33 times the provincial standard.

“Confidence is shaken, because the responsibility to protect the public rests with the government, with public health. We expect these people to protect our lives,” Letendre said, fearing that “arsenic is just the end of the big iceberg. ”

He points out that “not all contaminants are studied” and that “arsenic passes through the system, it leaves damage, but there are other heavy metals that accumulate.”

Last week, Quebec’s director of public health Dr. Luc Boileau indicated that further studies will be conducted in the coming weeks on arsenic emissions, as well as on other metals in the air in Rouyn-Noranda.


Meanwhile, in the city of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, citizens are stepping up conscious actions and perpetuating harassment of elected officials.

A few days ago, women from the Mothers Step In collective wearing a white protective suit against hazardous materials protested by singing in the main street before posting the video of their action on social media.

“Spread your arsenic, in a toxic cloud, as the foundry will say, a glass of arsenic full, I’ll put three … no, 100 nanograms!” sang by several members of Mothers Step In as a choir, which altered the lyrics of the arsenic cake song from the film Asterix and Cleopatra.

This group of dedicated women made the appointment to the citizens of Rouyn-Noranda on Monday night at the city council meeting. About a hundred people came to the meeting to ask Mayor Diane Dallaire and her councilors to take a clear and firm position on arsenic emissions from the Horne Foundry.

Tensions have risen somewhat, according to Nicole Desgagnés, spokeswoman for the Stop Toxic Emissions and Discharges (ARET) committee.

“There was a lot of anger, a lot of anger and sadness,” Desgagnés said because of the “soft” position elected officials have taken so far.

Hours after this meeting with citizens on Tuesday morning, Mayor Dallaire told the RDI that he asked the government to “aim to respect standards for all metals, not just arsenic, whether it is lead , cadmium or nickel. “

This statement “helps build public confidence,” but it’s not enough, according to Desgagnes.

The ARET spokesperson urged the municipal council to write in black and white, in a resolution, that it asks the Quebec government to impose on Glencore respect for Quebec standards.

As for the environment minister’s planned visit on Wednesday, Desgagnés insisted that citizens are eagerly awaiting his visit.

He recalled that Rouyn-Noranda residents were already aware of the impact of arsenic emissions on health in the fall of 2019, after reading the public health biomonitoring report and that the alarm bell was also raised in a Ministry of the Environment report in 2004..

“So much time has been wasted. Now that people want specific short -term targets, we know it’s costly,” but citizens “are no longer so,” Desgagnés said, emphasizing that “we no longer need of new studies. “

Charette planned to visit the town of Abitibi-Témiscamingue on Tuesday to discuss the arsenic emissions produced by Horne Smelter “with local stakeholders,” but “a maintenance problem on the plane” forced her to postpone the visit until Wednesday.

In 70 years, between one and 14 citizens of Rouyn-Noranda will develop cancer if the Glencore company does not reduce the concentration of arsenic in the air produced by the Horne smelter.

This is one of the conclusions of a study by the National Public Health Institute of Quebec (INSPQ), published last week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on July 12, 2022.

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