This consultation was open from:
January 20, 2021
to March 6, 2021
We are proposing an industry sector-based regulation to address sulphur dioxide air emissions from the nickel smelting and refining industry in the Sudbury area that will replace certain requirements under the Local Air Quality Regulation.
Two nickel smelting and refining companies located in Sudbury, Glencore and Vale, have made significant investments in technology to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions at their facilities in order to meet requirements set out in ministry approved site-specific standards. These investments have resulted in:
- reduced sulphur dioxide emissions, and
- improved ambient air concentrations of sulphur dioxide in the community.
While improvements have been made to reduce emissions, the two facilities will not meet the new, more stringent air standards for sulphur dioxide coming into effect in 2023. These facilities need to assess what more they can do to reduce risks to the local community.
To help bring these two companies into compliance while allowing them to continue operations at their Sudbury locations, the ministry is proposing regulatory changes that will support the facilities and allow them to plan for further action to reduce their sulphur dioxide emissions and improve air quality management within their plants.
The proposed regulation will allow the companies to plan for further action and improve air quality management while supporting Ontario’s industry and local jobs, as outlined in our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan.
The proposed approach will build on what’s already been done under the site-specific standards and drive improvement while providing the facilities regulatory certainty while they assess what more they can do to reduce emissions.
The proposal also includes additional actions to support this regulation including updates to the existing environmental compliance approvals, with improved monitoring, health risk interpretation and public communication, which are described in this proposal. Those changes will be posted on the Environmental Registry after the decision on the regulation.
Proposed industry regulation
Key requirements of the proposed sector specific regulation include:
- maintaining and optimising the recent air pollution controls and management methods to further reduce sulphur dioxide emissions.
- performing assessments on how well emission controls capture sulphur dioxide emissions.
- performing root cause analysis to determine the cause of monitored peaks in the community and requiring a plan for corrective and preventive actions.
- requirement to either:
- install best available control technology within two years of the regulation coming into effect for a facility; or
- submit within two years a plan for equivalent methods to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions that considers cost effectiveness and implement these methods within 8 years of the regulation applying to the facility.
If the proposed regulation is made, one nickel smelting facility operated by Glencore would be required to comply in 2021 before their site-specific standard expires. Vale’s facilities would be required to comply with the regulation in 2023 when the new air standards come into effect.
The proposed regulation will help bring the companies into compliance and provide greater certainty for the industry so they can plan for needed investments. As with other compliance options available under the Local Air Quality Regulation, this regulation would provide an alternative to meeting the sulphur dioxide air standard.
In addition to regulatory changes, both the ministry and the companies will be undertaking other work to support continuous improvement.
Assessing environmental performance
The ministry will be conducting new air dispersion modelling of the three facilities to further evaluate how the investments to date have changed ambient air quality in the community. This information will be used to update the ambient monitoring network, which will be used to assess the local air quality and the environmental performance of the facilities moving forward.
Environmental compliance approval requirements to support the proposed regulation
The ministry is also proposing to update each company’s environmental compliance approvals. These amendments will focus more on how companies will monitor, whereas the regulation will set out how the measurements are used to demonstrate performance and how they can be used to inform future investments.
Notice of proposed environmental compliance approval updates will be given in the Environmental Registry. Amendments would include requirements to:
- improve the ambient air monitoring network using the results of the air dispersion modelling by the ministry.
- improve the public accessibility of monitoring data and the interpretation of associated health risks.
- add new continuous emissions monitors to improve the understanding of the magnitude, duration and frequency of peak emissions.
- update requirements for annual reporting to the ministry on sulphur dioxide peaks measured at the air monitors.
Facilities must meet the specific operating conditions to limit sulphur dioxide emissions set out in their environmental compliance approval. The ministry inspects operations to ensure that these conditions are met. Proposed amendments to each site’s environmental compliance approval will be posted on the Environmental Registry for public comment.
Analysis of regulatory impact
The proposal would require the facilities to incur regulatory compliance costs related to:
- studies to confirm the effectiveness of current controls.
- studies and reports to confirm the cause of peak emissions and how they will be resolved.
- updating the ambient air monitoring network.
- a plan to install best available technology within 2 years or submit and implement a plan for equivalent actions to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions that consider cost effectiveness within 8 years of the regulation applying.
The Ontario government takes sulphur dioxide emissions seriously. We know that short-term exposure to sulphur dioxide may cause respiratory distress, especially in sensitive individuals such as those with asthma, and may cause difficulty breathing and increased asthma symptoms, especially during exercise. In some cases, sulphur dioxide exposure can cause effects on the heart, which may result in hospital admissions or, in severe cases, premature death.
The current air standards for sulphur dioxide were updated in March 2018 and new air standards will come into effect on July 1, 2023. These standards apply to the nickel smelting and refining sector in the Sudbury area and many other Ontario-based industries.
When new, more stringent air standards are introduced, some facilities are not able to meet these air standards due to technical and economic challenges. In this case the ministry reviews which facilities may need to do more to reduce their emissions. Since the Local Air Quality Regulation came into effect, companies have been required to do more through site specific standards or technical standards, which have taken years to develop. With this regulation, Ontario is introducing a new way to drive faster investments to improve Ontario’s air quality.
We have seen positive changes with the actions taken to date, with a decrease in total sulphur dioxide emissions. However, the data also shows that for 2018-2020 there were still peak (i.e., short-term) ambient sulphur dioxide concentration occurrences due to smelting activities that are high enough to cause adverse health effects to sensitive individuals, such as asthmatics, and in some cases to the general public.
The ministry will continue to take appropriate action in respect of these occurrences. The proposed industry regulation and updates to facilities’ environmental compliance approvals will allow us to:
- continue to monitor how changes will impact concentrations of sulphur dioxide and associated health risks; and
- install additional best available technology within 2 years or submit and implement a plan outlining what other actions are necessary within eight years of the regulation applying.
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