Quebec mining company fined for acidic water discharge into river

Saguenay River.
Sprinkler water, which was deemed acidic and potentially harmful to aquatic life, discharged into the Saguenay River. Photo Credit: vlad_g,

A major mining company operating in Quebec has been fined $500,000 after acidic water from its sprinklers flowed into a drainage system that empties into Quebec’s Saguenay River.                            

Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. pleaded guilty in a Quebec court to one charge under the federal Fisheries Act in relation to the 2019 incident. 

The mining company operates an aluminum smelter in Arvida that opened in 1926 and is set to close in 2025. It produces about 60,000 tonnes of aluminum each year

After the failure of a boiler system at the company’s Arvida factory in Saguenay, Quebec, mining company employees attempted to cool down the equipment for repair by spraying it with water.  

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Investigating officials from Environment Canada determined that despite the mining company’s attempts to stop the flow of water, more than 350 m3 of sprinkler water that had a pH level between 4.6 and 5.5, which is considered acidic and potentially harmful to aquatic life, discharged into the Saguenay River.

The company also pleaded guilty in 2018 and was fined $100,00 for releasing 1.7 m3 of hydrochloric acid into the Saguenay River from the same Arvida plant. 

A subsidiary of Rio Tinto was also fined in June for spilling sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid into sewer and storm drainage systems that empty into Quebec’s St. Lawrence River. 

All fines were paid into the federal government’s environmental damages fund and will support environmental restoration and wildlife and habitat conservation projects.

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