Edmonton – The largest fertilizer plant in the country has been given permission to expand, despite objections from its neighbours.
The Natural Resources Conservation Board has approved an expansion at the Redwater Agrium plant, which will see its gypsum pile – which covers 1.7 square-kilometres and is about 30 metres high – almost double in size.
The company wants to add another 1.2 square-kilometres to the pile, a waste product of its fertilizer production.
The board approved the expansion, even though it said that Agrium doesn’t fully undertand the source and impact of its flouride emissions. But it said the expansion is necessary both economically and socially.
During earlier hearings, Agrium had said if it couldn’t expand, it would have to close the plant, throwing 1,000 people out of work.
Area residents have concerns because the gypsum contains fluoride, which they say is already poisoning their cattle, and which they believe is unsafe for them. Some say the flouride level in their teeth is unacceptably high, and can cause bone deterioration.
“Tonight, when they go to bed, they can’t trust that what is being built across the river from them will not cause them harm,” Jennifer Klimek, lawyer for the residents, said. “There is still a huge unknown and this board, despite that unknown, is going to allow them to experiment.
“There were some very awful things found in Agrium’s conclusion, on Agrium’s submission. The board said they could not believe Agrium’s predictions. They said the environmental and health assessments could not be trusted either.”
Agrium says it will continue to reduce its flouride emissions.
“Our number one priority is the health and safety of all the members, and if we felt that there were adverse health effects, we would not be pursuing it ourselves,” Agrium general manager Alex Watson said.
The residents say they may appeal the board’s decision, which still has to be approved by Alberta Environment before the expansion can proceed.