The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has lost track of hundreds of aging landfills that threaten the province's water and air quality, says the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller in his recently released 2009/2010 annual report.
"Without proper protective measures and monitoring, aging landfills can pose a serious risk to the environment," says Miller. "Pollutants can enter ground and surface waters; decomposition produces noxious odours and greenhouse gases."
While modern landfills are designed to control air emissions and prevent contaminants from reaching water sources, landfills pre-dating the 1998 implementation of stricter regulatory standards are not. Miller says, "the aging landfills are not adequately inventoried or regularly inspected, and their approvals are not being updated by the province."
There are 2,449 landfills in Ontario with Certificates of Approval, but only one per cent, or 21 landfills, are subject to the more stringent 1998 requirements of the Environmental Protection Act.
The ministry only inspects 11 per cent of landfill sites annually. The low inspection rate increases the likelihood that contaminated water is seeping from older landfills undetected.
More than 1,000 historic landfills are estimated to have closed before the ministry itself was created. These old dumps therefore are subject to even less scrutiny, if any, by the ministry.
Miller says, "the ministry has yet to implement past recommendations to update obsolete approvals issued to landfills and to create a publicly accessible inventory of all Ontario landfills."
The Commissioner finds it perplexing that current ministry databases are less accessible and less comprehensive than the ministry's 1991 Landfill Inventory, which was a published document that listed information on all provincial landfills.
"Landfills can no longer be the province's forgotten polluters. The public expects the ministry to keep an updated inventory of provincial landfills; monitor high-risk sites; and update approvals when necessary. These are vital in protecting our air and water," says Miller.
The Commissioner notes Ontario's Auditor-General is also evaluating the management of Ontario's landfills for that office's upcoming report.