Arsenic, secrecy and health: the saga of the Horne Foundry
Thomas Gerbet, Jean-Marc Belzile
In the spring of 2022, Radio-Canada published a series of revelations about Canada’s only copper smelter in Rouyn-Noranda. First, that the rate of lung cancer and lung disease in local residents is up to 50% higher than elsewhere in Quebec; then that the province knowingly withheld this information for years. The smokestacks of the Horne Foundry, owned by Swiss multinational Glencore, release tens of tonnes of known carcinogens annually at concentrations exceeding more than 30 times the maximum standards, and this with total impunity under a special authorization from the province. In July and August, relying on both public and confidential documents, Radio-Canada revealed that the foundry’s reactors are fuelled by hundreds of thousands of tonnes of industrial waste — from as far away as Russia, Brazil or Asia — which release four tons of metals and particles into the atmosphere every day, contaminating the air and land up to 50 kilometres away. This series prompted Quebec to hold public hearings, tighten arsenic emission standards and force the multinational to decontaminate the surrounding soils. In early 2023, Glencore announced a $500 million upgrade to the smelter, plus plans to relocate an entire neighbourhood, trapped in the shadow of its smokestacks.