By Mark Cardwell

An investigation by public health officials has concluded that Port of Quebec – and specifically the operations at Quebec Stevedoring Company’s St. Lawrence Stevedoring terminal – is the source of nickel dust that has contaminated residential neighbourhoods next to the busy federal facility.

The company has also been ordered to submit a plan of remedial action by May 3. The company has refused to comment on the findings, leaving Port officials to do the talking.

“We are committed to analyzing the report quickly and to taking any necessary actions, starting right now, so that this problematic situation can be resolved,” Quebec Port Authority President and CEO Mario Girard said on April 15, the same day that the report was made public.

The findings ended months of speculation on the possible source of the contamination. The issue first came to light last summer when a resident in nearby Limoilou collected a vile of red dust that regularly accumulated on the porch of her apartment, as well as on houses, cars, streets and sidewalks in the area.

She brought the material to public health officials who identified the substance as nickel. Subsequent tests have found nickel levels in Limoilou were six times higher than acceptable safety levels. Fingers were pointed at the Port and the St. Lawrence Stevedoring terminal, which handles nickel shipped from the Voisey’s Bay mine onboard the Umiak I en route to a refinery in Sudbury.

Quebec Stevedoring officials have vigorously defended the company’s operations in the port, inviting journalists to inspect the unloading and handling of arriving nickel in the days leading up to the release of the report.

A senior company official said then that it was unlikely the terminal was the source of the dust, since the nickel was humid (containing 7 per cent water) due to the floating extraction method used at the Voisey’s Bay mine.

The official also noted that Quebec Stevedoring invested $3 million last fall (and plans to spend up to $7 million) on dust control systems in its terminal operations. Those investments will likely be part of the remedial plan the company will submit.

However, the plan will likely not derail a class-action lawsuit that was launched against the Port in January over the contamination.

For his part, Girard has been quick to voice his concern over the situation and promised quick action. “When I arrived in this job two years ago I expressed my desire to make the Port a model of sustainable development," he said. "No effort will be spared in our efforts to reach that objective."