Nickel in the air: chemists are not convinced

Nickel in the air: chemists are not convinced

The Ordre des chimistes du Québec calls on the government to be more cautious about its plan to increase nickel standards in the air. “Health and the environment must take precedence over economic issues,” explains the organization.

The Ordre des chimistes du Québec invites the Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change (MELCC), Benoit Charette, to exercise greater prudence and foresight in adjusting the standard of nickel allowed in the air. The daily standard would go from 14 nanograms per cubic meter to 70 ng/m3. Public Health had suggested that it be increased to 40 ng/m3. The new annual standard will be set at 20 ng/m3.

“Why does the government recommend a daily standard for nickel in the air of 70 ng/m3, or 3.5 times higher than the limit established to prevent respiratory effects in sensitive individuals?” Order of Chemists of Quebec. The draft regulation amending the Clean Air Regulation, still in consultation, could aim for a target value of 40 ng/m³ to prevent respiratory effects in more sensitive individuals.

The Order asks that the increase in the nickel air limit be approached by the government with more care. “Currently, this is not what we are seeing: we are considering changes to the health and environment of Quebecers without asking all the decisive questions,” says the president of the Order, Ms. Michel Alsayegh.

Raise the standard for the economy?

PQ MP Sylvain Gaudreault recently challenged Minister Benoit Charrette on this subject. “The Sustainable Development Actmakes it clear: you must apply the precautionary principle. I would add that no economic pretext can justify lowering our standards in this way,” wrote the Parti Québécois spokesperson for the environment.

So far, the government is relying mainly on economic arguments. Nickel is one of the strategic minerals for the production of electric batteries. Quebec wants to position itself as a leader in the manufacturing and recycling of electric vehicles. By increasing the standard of nickel in the air, the government wants to give itself the possibility of increasing the extraction of this ore and thus meet the growing demand.

“A more stringent nickel standard than elsewhere in the world and in the rest of Canada could reduce Quebec's attractiveness in terms of additional investment in the nickel sector, when the global context seems conducive to the development of new projects”, is it indicated in the draft regulation of the MELCC.

Mr. Gaudreault asks Minister Charette not to “take any chances”. “When there is no unanimity or scientific consensus, when there is still data to be collected, we are not taking chances. In that case, we're right in it.”

“At this stage, I see no other reasons than purely economic ones. From a public health point of view, this is not justified. From the point of view of social acceptability, it is not justified. From an environmental point of view, this is not justified. By elimination, this only seems to be for economic reasons”, specifies Sylvain Gaudreault in an interview with Métro.

The Ordre des chimistes du Québec indicates that it has not found any answers satisfactory in the documents published by the government. “Above all, health and the environment must take precedence over the legitimate economic issues driving this exercise,” the Order argues. The draft regulation mentions that with regard to the impacts on citizens, the amendments make it possible to prevent and limit the impacts on public health to a level qualified as acceptable.

The consultations surrounding the new standard for nickel will end on February 20, 2022, after an exceptional 60-day consultation period.

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