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Canadian wasteland gets green makeover

Before

September 12, 1996
Web posted at: 4:10 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Ann Kellan

SUDBURY, Ontario (CNN) -- Imagine your hometown's landscape looking like the surface of the moon. Sudbury, Ontario, once bore that distinction.

Pollution from the mining industries in town ate away the local shrubbery, killed off its fish and destroyed much of its wildlife population. But now, trees are sprouting, fish are spawning and wildlife is roaming freely.

The makeover is thanks in large part to various environmental regulations.

"I know when my dad first came here from Timmons he said it was just black rock. Barren," said resident Tom Pocrnick.

Victim of acid rain

Today

Copper and nickel mining are the major industries in Sudbury, northwest of Toronto. For more than 100 years, pollution from the local industries poured into the environment. The town was the biggest producer of acid rain-causing chemicals in North America, and the region became notorious for its landscape, stripped by acid rain.

The metal-rich rocks mined in the area contain sulfur. During the smelting, or purifying, process, oxygen combined with sulfur to make sulfur dioxide. The acidic gas then spewed from smoke stacks.

Some of it drifted into the clouds and came down as acid rain; the rest reached the soil directly without becoming precipitation.

Lakes as far as 90 miles away started dying off. "This was once a very popular angling lake. Many tourists came in here and that ceased," Ed Snucins, a rehabilitation biologist, said of Lake George.

Answer: blowing in the wind

But in 1972, the government stepped in and environmental regulations went into place, forcing industries to cut back on emissions.

Plane

Much of the improved environment is the result from changes made by Inco, the largest mining company in Sudbury. The company built a 1,200-foot smoke stack, dispersing the sulfur dioxide over a wider area.

Other changes followed. Inco shut down one of its smelting plants, installed new smelting furnaces and changed its milling process so that less sulfur is abstracted from the rocks.

The gases are now trapped and sent through a pipeline to an acid treatment plant, where they are converted into sulfuric acid and sold as a product.

The next step was helping the environment repair itself. Inco and the government dispersed lime through the air and in the ground to neutralize the acidic soil.

One year later, the grasses and clovers grow. Birch and poplar trees are taking root. Lakes are returning to normal. Insects, birds and small mammals have come back.

"The last time the native fish spawned was in 1966 and then last year the fish we introduced spawned once again. So we've gone full circle," Snucins said.

Other countries, he said, should take heed: "Pollution controls do pay. They are effective and we should not use that as an excuse for not doing anything."

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