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Ontario AG flags haz-waste system shortcomings

On Tuesday, December 11, Ontario Auditor-General Jim McCarter released his 494 page report that includes 14 value-f...


On Tuesday, December 11, Ontario Auditor-General Jim McCarter released his 494 page report that includes 14 value-for-money audits. He noted that the overarching theme was a lack of information made for poor decision making.

The annual report covers wide-ranging problems and raises disturbing questions about driving schools, the province’s inadequate sex-offender registry, and pharmacies overcharging the government for dispensing fees on prescription drugs.

In addition to these issues, Ontario failed to keep track of hazardous waste shipments. Hazardous waste management continues to be a problem, says McCarter, because the Ministry of the Environment’s computer system is not adequate to ensure compliance with legislation and regulations.

The audit found unexplained instances of missing hazardous waste including 26,000 shipments where the quantity of waste received was at least 10 per cent less than what was shipped.

He also notes that 75 species of fish, plants and wildlife are facing imminent extinction or may no longer be found in Ontario, yet the Ministry of Natural Resources does not have adequate information on habitats where it needs to focus its resources.

Please find below the summary of issues taken directly from the Chapter Three on hazardous waste. (Also note that the full chapter, which includes reports from the Ministry of the Environment, will be posted at www.hazmatmanagement.com Also, an in-depth article on the new CIELAP study of hazardous waste in Ontario is the cover story of the forthcoming Winter edition of HazMat Management magazine, due out at the end of December.)

EXCERPT FROM SUMMARY:

Partly owing to continuing problems with a computer system implemented in 2002, the Ministry does not yet have adequate monitoring and inspection procedures in place to ensure compliance with legislation and regulations aimed at protecting the environment from the risks posed by hazardous waste. Specifically, the system implemented in 2002 was not, at the time of our audit, achieving its intended purpose of supporting an electronic-manifest system, nor was it readily providing the information needed for district and head office staff to identify potential problems on a timely basis. In fact, most staff we talked to indicated that the previous system had better and more user-friendly analytical and reporting capabilities, enabling them to focus their inspection and other activities on those areas presenting the highest risk. The system’s weaknesses limit the ability of staff to effectively monitor the volume of hazardous waste activity in the province and contributed to many of the following concerns:

We identified over 5,000 generators that were registered as hazardous waste generators in 2004 but not in 2005, yet the Ministry had not determined whether they were still in operation and generating hazardous waste. Also, many generators registered after the deadline, resulting in unnecessary costs to the Ministry, necessitating reminder notices and preventing the Ministry from effectively following up on these generatorsyet there are no penalties for filing late.

Certificates of approval from the Ministry are required for hazardous waste carriers and receivers to establish, operate, enlarge, or extend a site or system. The Ministry reviews certificate applications to ensure that the applicant’s operations will not have an adverse effect on the environment. As of January 2007, we found that of the certificate applications yet to be processed, 50 per cent had been in the assessment stage for more than one year and 20 per cent for more than three years. The Ministry also does not routinely follow up on companies whose applications were refused or that are found to be operating without a certificate of approval, and we found a number of companies that were operating without the required certificate of approval.

We identified over 26,000 shipments of hazardous waste in 2005 where the quantity received was less than the quantity shipped by the generator. The difference was greater than 10 per cent in half of these shipments, with no explanation for or follow-up on the discrepancy. The lack of follow-up and other exceptions noted during our audit indicated that there is a risk that a significant amount of hazardous waste may not be disposed of properly.

We identified almost 900 registered hazardous waste generators that apparently had not shipped any hazardous waste for the last three consecutive yearsas evidenced by the absence of manifests, which are required to accompany all shipments of hazardous waste. The absence of manifests could indicate that hazardous waste, if not being accumulated on-site, was being shipped without the required documentation and disposed of inappropriately. The Ministry does not produce a report to highlight registered generators with no manifest activity so that they could be inspected to see whether they were still generating hazardous waste to be disposed of off-site.

The Ministry may require carriers and receivers of hazardous waste to provide financial assurance to ensure that the government does not need to pay for hazardous waste cleanup. As of April 2007, the Ministry held $150 million in financial assurance from over 700 carriers and receivers of waste. However, the financial assurance collected is not sufficient to fund cleanup costs when significant problems do arise. For example, a chemical company that provided financial assurance totaling $3.4 million for a landfill site experienced problems with leakage, and cleanup costs have been estimated to be $64 million.

Hazardous waste generators are required to pay fees to the Ministry to recover the costs related to the management of hazardous waste in the province. In the last two years, the Ministry spent over $30.6 million to administer the Hazardous Waste Program and collected only $12.4 million.

Ministry compliance staff may inspect any hazardous waste generator, carrier, or receiver governed under the Environmental Protection Act. Although the Ministry performed a significant number of inspections over the last three years, its selection of facilities for inspection was often not based on risks posed to the environment. Only four of the 20 largest hazardous-waste-producing sectors had been inspected, and in at least the last five years, the Ministry had not performed any inspections at 11 of the 30 largest hazardous-waste-generating facilities in the province. In addition, there was no process in place to identify and inspect unregistered facilities.

Ministry inspectors had found a significant level of repeat non-compliance over the last three years. For example, 40 per cent of the inspection reports we reviewed at the Ministry’s district offices showed that similar violations had occurred in the past, but the Ministry had given these repeat violators more severe penalties in only 20 per cent of the cases tested. Overall reported non-compliance rates may also be lower than is actually the case because district offices do not conduct surprise inspections, and inspections of trucks hauling hazardous waste simply verify that a manifest document is on board but do not verify the weight or contents of the vehicle.


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