Ontario has made some notable progress in dealing with hazardous waste, but still needs to address the threats to the environment, human health and the province’s economy associated with the significant quantities of hazardous waste that continue to be generated as well as gaps in regulation and enforcement, says the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP).
“Hazardous waste is a problem that continues to require urgent attention not only from environmental and ethical perspectives, but from a cost perspective as well. Various negative external costs must be addressed, including water contamination, air pollution, and cleanup costs from accidents,” says the Institute’s latest status report, entitled “Hazardous Waste in Ontario: Progress and Challenges.”
The report builds on two previous CIELAP reports published in 2000 and 2003, analyzing trends in hazardous waste in Ontario between 1994 and 1998 and between 1998 and 2000, respectively. Both studies revealed a substantial increase in quantities of hazardous waste generated within the province and transported into Ontario from the U.S. for treatment, and both predicted that this trend would continue because Ontario lacked detailed regulatory standards for hazardous waste handling and disposal.
Since then, notes the new report, the government has made significant progress in this area, putting in place measures such as the land disposal restriction regulation; waste storage, mixing and processing requirements; new generator registration requirements; certification and reporting requirements; and the phase-out of existing hospital incinerators.
“Finally the government of Ontario is taking action on this file; the public understands the need for action but there is unfinished business,” said CIELAP executive director Anne Mitchell. “CIELAP urges the government to continue its efforts to safely dispose of hazardous waste and promote pollution prevention and toxic product use reduction.
“As we head into an election, it’s crucial that politicians address the real threats posed by hazardous waste,” she added.
Other important steps have included the creation of the hazardous waste information network, the decision not to require mandatory destruction of PCB waste at this time, and the proposed diversion program for household hazardous waste, notes CIELAP.
Nevertheless, certain gaps still remain, illustrated by the fact that the amount of hazardous waste generated in Ontario remained almost unchanged over the past five years. In 2005, notes the report, Ontario generated 1,721,240 tonnes of hazardous and liquid industrial waste, only slightly less than the 1,724,933 tonnes generated in 2000.
The data show no significant reduction in the generation of hazardous and liquid industrial waste during this period, and CIELAP says the province needs to step up its efforts to bring this waste generation down. In addition to refining, implementing and enforcing existing hazardous waste management initiatives, CIELAP says it is essential that the Ontario government actively promote pollution prevention through toxics use reduction and extended producer responsibility and design-for-environment measures to address the problem of hazardous waste.
“The Ontario government must provide the resources to implement its most recent hazardous waste management initiatives effectively, and it should address the need for additional laws and policies,” said Maureen Carter-Whitney, CIELAP’s Research Director and author of the report.
The report also lists the top ten Ontario cities in terms of total quantity of hazardous and liquid industrial waste. Ottawa ranks first, with 250,887 tonnes, followed by Burlington (233,939 tonnes); Windsor (187,050 tonnes); Hamilton (164,323 tonnes); Ajax (132,238 tonnes); Guelph (122,766 tonnes); Sarnia (114,464 tonnes); London (107,849 tonnes); St Catharines (85,462 tonnes); and Toronto (78,320 tonnes).
CIELAP’s analysis cites a number of gaps in the regulation of hazardous waste in Ontario. Issues still needing focused attention include: improved compliance with the new land disposal restriction regulation, including targeting of the worst offenders; the lack of regulation for land disposal by small-quantity generators; the lack of compliance in registering with the hazardous waste information network; the need to control the disposal of hazardous wastes in sewer systems; and the need to develop adequate hazardous waste disposal facilities for compact fluorescent bulbs.
“It is also essential that the public be given easier access to information about hazardous waste generation in Ontario, free of charge,” Carter-Whitney added.
The report makes 14 recommendations aimed at addressing these issues. Among other things, CIELAP calls for the provincial government to:
* actively pursue a pollution prevention strategy for hazardous wastes that focuses on reducing toxics use (this, says the report, should include consideration of both regulatory tools and voluntary programs);
* use municpal hazardous and special waste diversion plans to promote extended producer responsibility in Ontario, and develop other policy and regulatory initiatives to achieve this goal, such as requiring design-for-environment changes and the phase-out of specific hazardous materials used in products;
* address the problem of hazardous waste discharges into sewage systems by developing a revised model sewer use bylaw, documenting and reporting on the quality of sewage treatment plant discharges into water, and seeking ways to deal with the increasing volume of persistent toxic contaminants in municipal sewage systems;
* take a stronger role in stormwater monitoring and management;
* require municipalities to submit their pollution prevention and control plans for review by the Ministry of Environment, which should also monitor the municipalities for compliance with the plans;
* publish annual reports summarizing the types, volumes and weights of municipal and industrial wastes, household hazardous wastes and industrial wastes, along with information about the end disposal of these wastes by different methods such as re-use, recycling, landfill and incineration; and
* evaluate and improve the treatment standards included in the land disposal restriction regulation and ensure compliance with these standards, and develop a guideline specific to hazardous waste incinerators setting out rigorous emissions and operating standards.
The full report may be viewed on the CIELAP Web site, www.cielap.org
This news item is adapted from one that first appeared in our EcoWeek newsletter (September 24, 2007). Did you know that our magazine is part of a larger company that publishes numerous magazines and several excellent environmental news and legislative newsletters? Learn more about all these products and services by visiting www.EcoLog.com