Doctors denounce Quebec’s decision to allow more nickel emissions into the air

New regulations that took effect April 28 allow five times as much nickel emissions into the atmosphere.

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As new standards came into force allowing daily emissions of nickel particles in the air to increase five-fold, doctors are denouncing the decision of the Quebec government to allow the increased pollution.

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Last week, Québec solidaire asked the government to suspend the decree that allowed the emissions increase. MNA Sol Zanetti said the saga has become “the symbol of the Coalition Avenir Québec’s indifference toward the health of citizens and the environment” to “please the mining industry.”

The request for easing of restrictions came from the industry, including Glencore, which has installations in the Port of Quebec, which has provoked controversy and protests.

Zanetti said the decision lacked scientific rigor and demanded the decree be suspended “until there’s a real independent study that takes into account all the scientific and methodological criticisms.”

The regulation change sees the maximum amount of nickel emissions in the air to reach 70 nanograms per cubic meter per day, five times the current limit of 14.

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The government justified the increase by pointing to other jurisdictions, saying it would allow Quebec to “adjust to the standards in place elsewhere in Canada, notably in Ontario, as well as in Europe.”

But the Association québécoise des médecins pour l’environnement (AQME) said that logic is “based on a fundamental error, because the standard adopted in Europe and the standard adopted in Ontario are based on a nickel composition in the air that is different from Quebec City,” said AQME spokesperson Johanne Elsener, a veterinarian.

Elsener said in Europe and Ontario, the air has a “predominance of nickel sulfate” while in Quebec City “it’s what we call nickel sulfide.” She noted that in other jurisdictions like Western Australia, which has “the same type of nickel as in Quebec City,” the standard is 3 nanograms per cubic meter.

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She also criticized the fact that the toxicology research used to justify the decision does not include research done after 2011.

“We know now that atmospheric pollutants, besides causing respiratory effects and carcinogenic effects, are now associated with cardiovascular diseases, premature death and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

The College of Physicians also asked the government to review its decision, saying it will “unfortunately have negative consequences on the population’s health. Let’s prioritize our health.”

Despite denunciations from all three opposition parties, all 18 regional public health directors, the Quebec City council, the Order of Chemists and environmental groups, the government remains committed.

Quebec’s environment ministry said Environment Minister Benoit Charrette was not available for an interview. A few weeks ago, Charrette explained that the government’s decision “was approved at each of its steps by public health” and that public health director Luc Boileau “confirmed that the studies were valid, that the decision to change the standard was valid and it’s justified scientifically.”

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