Study of pollution from Great Lakes facilities finds government commitment to cleanup still weak
New statistics from PollutionWatch, a partnership between Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), show that Canadian facilities in the Great Lakes basin emitted 73% more air pollution per facility in 2002 than their U.S. counterparts. More than 4,100 Great Lakes facilities in Canada and the U.S. released and transferred over 627 million kilograms (627,243,035 kg) of pollutants in the Great Lakes ecosystem basin, says a new PollutionWatch report, Partners in Pollution: An Assessment of Continuing Canadian and United States Contributions to Great Lakes Pollution.
Like a previous, nationwide report released last October (ELW October 17, 2005), Partners in Pollution draws on data submitted by Canadian companies to Environment Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), with U.S. figures obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The 2002 matched NPRI and TRI data are the most recently available. The new summary, the groups note, is the first report in a decade to focus on pollution levels in the Great Lakes ecosystem using NPRI and TRI data.
Of the total releases and transfers, 65% (almost 407 million kg) came from U.S. facilities. For specific pollutants, however, releases from Canadian sources were higher on a per-facility basis, says the report.
Canadian and U.S. facilities in the Great Lakes basin released nearly 102 million kg (101,907,241 kg) of pollution into the air, with Canadian facilities accounting for 49,471,016 kg of the total air releases and U.S. facilities releasing 52,436,225 kg of pollutants into the air.
The PollutionWatch study analyzed releases and transfers on the basis of core facilities (NPRI and TRI) that reported consistently in Canada and the U.S. between 1998 and 2002, and core pollutants reported during the same period. It found that total releases and transfers from core matched facilities decreased by 19% between 1998 and 2002, with TRI facilities accounting for most of this reduction.
Air releases from NPRI and TRI facilities decreased by a total of 14%. Core Canadian facilities, however, increased their air releases by 3%, while those from core U.S. facilities decreased by 24%.
Moreover, Canadian facilities made up half of the top ten air polluters in the Great Lakes basin, and were responsible for 61% of reported air pollution among the top ten. The Canadian facilities included: Ontario Power Generation's (OPG) Nanticoke generating station; Inco's Copper Cliff smelter complex; Bayer's Sarnia facility; OPG's Lambton generating station; and Bowater's Thunder Bay forest products facility.
Nearly all (97%) of all matched NPRI and TRI facilities reported air releases of chemicals associated with respiratory effects. On a per-facility basis, the NPRI-matched facilities released, on average, 79% more respiratory toxins to the air than TRI facilities in 2002 and 93% more known or suspected cancer-causing pollutants. On the same basis as well, Canadian facilities emitted into the air about four times more chemicals (42%) linked to reproductive or developmental effects than did U.S. facilities.
Releases to water from Canadian and U.S. Great Lakes facilities increased by 21% between 1998 and 2002, totalling nearly 5.3 million kg in 2002. U.S. facilities in the region released, on average, 39% more pollutants on a per-facility basis than Canadian facilities.
Other types of releases reported include:
*underground injection, with over 13 million kg of pollutants released to the Great Lakes in 2002, exclusively by U.S. facilities (two of which accounted for over 12 million kg of the total). No Canadian facilities reported underground injection to the Great Lakes in 2002.
*on-site landfills, with a total of more than 146 million kg of pollutants released in this manner. One-third of the total was landfilled at NPRI facilities and two thirds at TRI facilities. Two facilities-Clean Harbors Canada's landfill in Corunna, Ont and Envirosafe Services of Ohio's facility in Oregon, Ohio-accounted for more than half of all pollutants landfilled on-site in 2002.
*off-site transfers from Great Lakes facilities to other locations, accounting for 480 million kg of pollutants. Most (257 million kg) were sent for recycling, followed by energy recovery (106 million kg), transfers of metals to sewage, treatment and energy recovery (66 million kg) and finally, disposal (five million kg).
"The health of the Great Lakes is in real trouble because we forget pollution is still a real issue," said CELA executive director Paul Muldoon, while his counterpart at Environmental Defence, Dr Rick Smith, observed that "Canada is doing a worse job on Great Lakes pollution than the U.S." Both spokesmen called for immediate, clearly-defined action by the new federal government to reduce Great Lakes pollution.
Although the NPRI and TRI data help single out facilities and industry sectors that are releasing and transferring pollutants, the report acknowledges a number of limitations. For example, the data do not cover all potentially harmful pollutants or sources of pollutants, nor is the ultimate environmental fate of pollutants described.
Not all facilities are included, only those meeting the reporting requirements; and only annual summaries are provided, not daily or weekly releases and transfers. Figures cited may not represent exact measurements; they may be estimates derived using various methods.
Even so, the information provided by the Partners in Pollution report is of particular relevance as the Canadian and U.S. governments are about to initiate a formal review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Although the governments have addressed significant threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem with each revision of the Agreement since it was first signed in 1972, the report concludes that there is still an inadequate level of commitment to restoring and protecting the Great Lakes basin. CELA, Environmental Defence and Great Lakes United are urging all levels of government to use the pollution findings of the report as a focal point for the review process.
Partners in Pollution makes 15 specific recommendations to both governments for reducing and eliminating pollution in the Great Lakes. Among other things, it says the governments should:
*develop an inclusive, common database to determine annual loadings of all pollutants, including all persistent toxic substances, to the Great Lakes;
*develop and implement a binational pollution elimination and reduction strategy that builds upon, and significantly expands, the Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy;
*reconfirm their commitment to the virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances and expand that goal to include carcinogens and endocrine disruptors;
*commit to reaching the prescribed targets through pollution prevention measures which would include the application of green chemistry and materials substitution; and
*enhance and expand the U.S. TRI and the Canadian NPRI programs, adding more pollutants to the reporting lists, setting lower reporting thresholds for facilities, expanding the reporting sectors and facilities, requiring better reporting of pollution prevention strategies, and improving mechanisms for verifying information submitted by facilities. The report adds that any proposal to reduce the reporting burden, including a U.S. proposal to collect TRI data every two years, should be rejected.
"It's remarkable to think that the U.S. government would try to limit the availability of data when this report clearly indicates that more comprehensive binational monitoring is necessary," said Great Lakes United executive director Derek Stack, adding, "Funding research and ultimately accelerating pollution reduction through available practical strategies should be a priority for U.S. and Canadian governments."
Another recommendation, aimed at addressing the limitations of the NPRI and TRI reporting systems, calls for the creation of a scientific working group, under the auspices of the International Joint Commission (IJC) to report on new chemical threats to the Great Lakes (e.g. various flame retardants and disposal of pharmaceutical products). This working group should report on measures taken to address such threats.
Other recommendations are directed at the individual governments. Canada, for example, should integrate the goals for virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in the renegotiation of the Canada-Ontario Agreement respecting the Great Lakes basin ecosystem (COA).
The report may be viewed on the PollutionWatch Web site, www.PollutionWatch.org. More information is also available from Fe de Leon at CELA, 416/960-2284, ext 223, E-mail email@example.com, or Jennifer Foulds at Environmental Defence, 416/323-9521, ext 232, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.