Welcome to Hamilton, the place where guns go to die.
ArcelorMittal Dofasco melts down thousands of firearms — at least 12 tonnes — every year in its steelmaking melt shop on Burlington Street.
Close to 5,000 are weapons seized by or turned over to the Ontario Provincial Police. Thousands more come via the RCMP and municipal police forces across southern Ontario, including Toronto and Hamilton. The latter delivered 423 guns for destruction last year, said spokesperson Sergeant Terri-Lynn Collings.
The revolver recycling is an open but uncomfortable secret in Canada. Local steelmaking officials don’t like to talk about it for security reasons, said spokesperson Marie Verdun — even though a sister facility in Cleveland hosts an annual “Gun Melt” day attended by the city mayor, police chief and other local politicians. The RCMP won’t reveal how many guns they deliver to Steeltown, or how often.
Hamilton’s gun melt is deliberately low profile, but “definitely a valuable public service,” said OPP Staff Sergeant Clyde Dyck, who tracks the fate of thousands of melted weapons every year.
“It’s not a small job, and we need more guns destroyed every year,” Dyck said. “You can say we definitely get in the way of their business because we have to stay with the firearms until they’re destroyed.”
Dyck said transport trucks under police escort deliver the weapons — mostly guns, but with some knives, hatchets and the odd spear mixed in — to the steelmaker twice a year. Officers climb to the highest point in the 20-storey building to witness the molten destruction in a red-hot vessel and later descend to search the floor for fugitive firearms.
“It’s pretty neat to watch,” he said.
Lynda Lukasik watches from the outside and isn’t as keen on the idea, however.
The head of Environment Hamilton wanted to know whether plastic in the guns can contribute to higher-than-normal emissions from the melt shop. She snapped a photo of a thick cloud above the facility in May and asked the steelmaker to explain.
“I think it’s always a good idea to question how clean the (metal) scraps are going into this process,” she said.
In an email, ArcelorMittal Dofasco initially blamed the gun melt. That response was a mistake, Verdun said Tuesday.
She said the melt shop, known as the KOBM, did spew a higher-than-normal amount of pollution in May, but it had nothing to do with melting guns.
The steelmaker says it never adds more than one tonne of guns into the steelmaking mix at one time, and each “charge” contains a minuscule amount of plastic, an estimated 0.03 per cent.
Verdun said fugitive emissions in May were due to “wear and tear” on its pollution control system. As a result, the furnace will be shut down until June 12 for repairs.
Ministry of the Environment area director Geoffrey Knapper also shot down the smoking gun theory. He said “worn-out cladding” on the facility’s pollution control system appears to be to blame for high emissions reported to the ministry, not rogue steelmaking ingredients.
He said the ministry is closely monitoring repairs at the facility, which has been dogged by pollution criticism dating back to the early 2000s.