Mining company fined $600K for polluting St. Lawrence River in Quebec

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A major mining company that operates in 35 countries has been fined $600,000 for spilling sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid into sewer and storm drainage systems that empty into Quebec’s St. Lawrence River. 

The spill incidents occurred in the spring and winter of 2020 at the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane Inc. mining complex in Sorel-Tracy. In the Court of Quebec, the company pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Fisheries Act. 

In June 2020, a total of 1,314 litres of sodium hydroxide discharged into the mining complex’s sewer system, reaching a final discharge point that flows into the St. Lawrence River, said Environment and Climate Change Canada. The company notified Environment and Climate Change Canada that the discharge point had a pH above 9.5, which is harmful to fish. Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda, is corrosive and an inorganic compound with the formula NaOH. 

A second incident occurred in December 2020 when a broken, spent acid pipe released 7,000 litres of hydrochloric acid into the complex’s storm drainage system, which emptied into the St. Lawrence River. It is a strong inorganic acid that can be damaging to health.

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The river water around Sorel-Tracy contains several species of fish, including bass, walleye, minnow, and yellow perch.

As a result of the conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry. 

The mining company was originally founded in Spain in 1873. In Quebec, it processes ore and produces high-grade titanium dioxide feedstock used as a pigment to whiten a range of products such as paint, textiles and paper. The company also produces iron and steel used in specialized applications in the automotive industry and wind turbines.

In 2022, the company partnered with the federal government to decarbonize its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane operations in Sorel-Tracy.

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