‘Dust in the wind’: Lafarge Cement Plant contamination concerns Bath residents

The LaFarge cement plant in Bath, Ontario (in Loyalist Township), just outside of Kingston. Photo by Cliff Morton.

Recently, the Canada Lafarge Cement Plant located three kilometres west of the Villiage of Bath, experienced a filter malfunction, expelling toxic cement dust referred to as ‘clinker’ into the atmosphere.

The plant manager Ignacio Arroyo’s communication to Loyalist residents regarding the incident indicates that the toxic airborne contamination was localized to the plant site itself. Residents were quick, however, to inform the manager of this inaccuracy and confirm for Arroyo that the contamination was carried by westerly winds several kilometres beyond the plant, contaminating the landscape, homes and automobiles in the Village of Bath.

Arroyo’s communications with affected residents has been thoughtfully and frequently apologetic: “Myself and our plant team unreservedly apologize for the upset and concern that our dust release has caused all of you. We intend to make it right and make sure it never happens again.”

The Lafarge cement plant in Bath, Ontario. Photo by Cliff Morton.

The incident, however, has also involved the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MOECP). The MOECP has conducted an investigation and both the Lafarge plant and local residents eagerly await their report.

Cement dust called, ‘clinker’ is a combination of several components, including calcium silicate, tricalcium aluminate, and calcium aluminoferrite. Clinker has a fine composition structure and is therefore easily and quickly transported by the wind. The Lafarge manager indicates that the contaminate dust material, when combined with water, produces a layer of cement on the surface it contacts and is therefore somewhat difficult to remove. His suggestion to residents is that removal can be facilitated by a combination of water and the acid vinegar. 

Discussion in the community seems less concerned with the removal of the dust from homes and automobiles, and more centred around the concern and reassurance that there are no possible health effects from the airborne clinker itself. A 2016 report entitled “Review of Health Effects from Cement Plant Operations” by the provincial government agency Public Health Ontario concludes reassuringly that “a causal relationship between the proximity to a cement plant and the risk of cancer and other health effects could not be established.” However, the report clearly identified the fact that “health impacts were identified in the surrounding communities, including specific cancers (I.E. lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) and respiratory diseases.”

Exhaust billows from a smokestack at the Lafarge plant in Bath, Ontario. Photo by Cliff Morton.

In addition to the 2016 government report, one of Arroyo’s local community correspondences was, according to some residents, cause for cautious concern related to possible adverse health effects. The letter acknowledged that “the Ontario government has established an Occupational Exposure Limit for those working with the material on a time-weighted average over an eight-hour working day.” Supporting the plant manager’s statement is the acknowledgement that the clinker exposure is regulated. His communication indicated that “we do not believe that there are lasting health effects due to the clinker dust that was emitted last week.” Bath and Loyalist residents are awaiting the MOECP report to confirm or reject this supposition from the Lafarge Cement Plant Manager.

Cliff Morton is a recent resident of Bath, Ontario and, being impacted by the recent ‘clinker’ emissions, did his own research and decided that it was newsworthy. He is a retired secondary school teacher who enjoys reading, music, photography and exploring the beautiful Bay of Quinte area with his two golden retrievers.

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