August 16, 2004

Ontario MOE promises unprecedented action to address industrial spills into St Clair River

In accepting the final report of the Industrial Pollution Action Team (IPAT), Ontario Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky promised to implement its recommendations, stating that "we will be developing an action plan on industrial pollution that will be like nothing my ministry has ever developed before."

The Ministry of Environment's action plan on industrial pollution will focus on: enhancing the MOE's scientific capacity; developing innovative policies to protect Ontario's environment; and implementing new ways to enforce Ontario's environmental legislation.

Dombrowsky set up the IPAT in April in response to a number of industrial spills that had occurred along the St. Clair River, including several that resulted in the closure of municipal water intakes. The team was led by Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Maria Van Bommel and Isobel Heathcote, a professor in the University of Guelph's faculty of environmental sciences and current Canadian co-chair of the International Joint Commission's Science Advisory Board.

The team was specifically asked to "examine the causes of industrial spills and dangerous air emissions and recommend to the government prevention measures for industry and others." Its investigations concentrated on five main areas: spills prevention; spills detection on- and off-site; spills response and notification; human and ecosystem health impacts; and communications. Its report notes regretfully that the time allowed for its work was too short to enable the team to carry out the last part of its task, i.e. to probe the health, environmental, community and business impacts for the solutions it proposes.

The IPAT found a spill prevention/management system which it says is largely in compliance, yet where spills to air and water still occur periodically. It was drawn to the conclusion that the existing system of approvals, inspection, enforcement and prosecution is not working as well as it should, and that despite its best intentions, the system does not encourage prevention of spills or pollution, nor does it encourage the regular updating of technology and operating systems.

Specifically, Ontario's environmental management framework remains largely reactive, rather than preventive, and does not employ a full range of available tools, says the report. The team further found the province's approvals framework to be cumbersome and outdated, and observed that MOE monitoring systems appear inadequate to assess ambient conditions. In addition, the report cites the absence of a regulatory requirement for laboratory accreditation in industrial self-monitoring.

Findings relating to spill prevention and response suggest that the number and training of personnel may be important factors in these areas. The report also notes that: laboratory analysis is slow and hampers spill response; spill contingency plans are not transparent to the public; current notification systems do not serve all water users equally well; jurisdictional confusion may be slowing spill notification and response; and downstream communities are not recouping the full costs of spills. Local communities, adds the report, have been gravely affected by spills.

In the IPAT's view, there is no simple solution for the prevention and management of spills in the St Clair River area. While some short-term measures are both possible and necessary, the report says a long-term approach will require a multi-faceted approach. Accordingly, the IPAT calls for:

the introduction of regulatory requirements for pollution prevention plans, spill prevention plans (including multiple barriers) and spill contingency plans;

a comprehensive, risk-based approach to approvals, spill prevention and management, notification, and enforcement;

regular review and revision of regulatory limits for air, water and waste emissions;

a legislative framework incorporating economic or other incentives to go beyond compliance;

regulatory requirements for operator training and private laboratory accreditation;

review and restructuring of ambient monitoring programs;

the establishment of a Ministry of Environment analytical laboratory in the Sarnia area; and

improved spills notification and routine communication systems, including resolution of jurisdictional confusion

The panel's report may be viewed on the MOE Web site, www.ene.gov.on.ca. It has also been posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights registry for a 60-day comment period running to October 8, 2004. Comments, referencing the registry number, XA04E0014, may be forwarded to John Vidan, manager, Strategic Policy Branch, Ministry of Environment, 135 St Clair Ave W, Toronto M4V 1P5; 416/314-4157, FAX 416/314-2976.

Other IPAT members included: James Thomas Brophy, executive director of the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers, Windsor and Sarnia; Donna Day, chief of the Walpole Island First Nation, one of the first native communities in Canada to take leadership in the field of environment and sustainable development;

Ken Drouillard, a researcher with the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Windsor; Darren Henry, a band council member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation and chair of the band's environmental committee; Charles Jia, an associate professor and co-ordinator of occupational health and safety with the University of Toronto's school of chemical engineering and applied chemistry; and Bela Trebics, chair of the Wallaceburg Advisory Team for a Cleaner Habitat (WATCH), who helped implement the ISO 140001 environmental management system at Oxford Automotive in Wallaceburg.

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