Residents fed up with ‘coffining’ process
Dofasco’s cooling process for hot iron sends dusty emissions into community
It’s called “coffining,” a process that steelmakers use to cool excess hot iron in outdoor pits that sends giant dark clouds into the sky.
And some of the people living beneath those dusty emissions from ArcelorMittal Dofasco say they are fed up with it.
“They should have put an end to the process years ago,” says Crown Point neighbourhood resident Jochen Bezner, who is a member of a ArcelorMittal Dofasco Community Liaison Committee.
“I think they should be doing more to deal with the emissions.”
Coffining is done from time to time to manage surplus molten iron or metal. It’s cooled off in pits to be heated and used later on in steelmaking.
However, at this time of year — because of shutdowns for maintenance — coffining is done more frequently, says company spokesperson Marie Verdun.
“Right now we are experiencing a longer than normal maintenance period which has caused an increase in coffining over the past two weeks,” she says.
The company sent out a notice April 28 to liaison committee members and on social media saying “we may experience an excess of hot metal (liquid iron) from our blast furnace operations … Coffin beds will also be proactively maintained to reduce the risk and severity of any potential emissions if coffining hot metal is required.”
Since then, residents say they have noticed emission problems in particular on May 6, 9 and before the notice was issued on April 14.
Tiny particles of dust from factory emissions can cause or aggravate respiratory problems — especially for people with asthma or other lung conditions.
Verdun says weather has been a factor in worsening emissions due to the reaction of the “iron and water.”
“When the weather is wet it makes it even more difficult — and, of course, we have had exceptional rain over the past week.”
Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environmental Hamilton who also sits on the liaison committee, says the coffining problem at Dofasco has dragged on for years and “we are still waiting an effective solution to this problem.”
Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler says the ministry “has proactively issued various orders in concert with site specific standard approvals with a view to reduce emissions from AM Dofasco’s operations overtime. These initiatives have targeted AM Dofasco’s primary operations including coke and iron making.”
Verdun says the company is coffining less than it used to. In 2016, the company coffined five per cent of its excess hot metal as opposed to 10 per cent in 2006.
“We continue to look at technologies and strategies to address excess hot metal management to reduce visible emissions,” she added. But residents say that’s not good enough. Liz Tobin, who lives in the Sherman Hub neighbourhood, moved to Hamilton from Toronto more than two years ago and had no idea that steel company emissions would be an ongoing concern.
“It’s very frustrating that we continue to have these issues happen,” Tobin said. “We don’t seem to make much progress. If they can’t work within the guidelines they should give serious consideration about whether they should continue working, frankly.”
Liaison committee member Bezner also moved here from Toronto in recent years.
“I recognize the air pollution is a lot better than it was many years ago,” he said. “But it is still not good enough. Nobody deserves this.
“There are very bad odours coming in here every now and then,” Bezner added. “I cannot enjoy the outdoors. I cannot leave the windows open.
“I want those emissions to stop completely. I think there have to be technical solutions to deal with it. It’s just a matter of money. I don’t think money trumps health of citizens.”
Brown clouds at Dofasco from a so-called coffining operation, in which hot metal is cooled outdoors in a gravel pit, on April 14.