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Great Lakes Article:

SIERRA LEGAL DEFENCE FUND
MEDIA RELEASE
July 21, 2002

Ontario still a safe haven for polluters
Report reveals province's abysmal enforcement record and highlights under-reporting of violations

TORONTO Sierra Legal Defence Fund has released a scathing report, titled Polluter's Haven, which documents thousands of violations of both provincial air and wastewater standards within the Lake Ontario basin and highlights the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy's (MOE) continued abysmal enforcement record. The report also alleges that the MOE is under-reporting the true number of facilities that violate air pollution laws.

The report reveals that although the MOE has documented more than 6,500 wastewater and air violations in the Lake Ontario basin since the early 1990s, only an estimated 15 facilities were prosecuted and convicted since the mid 1990s representing slightly more than 5% of over 265 violating facilities.

"Common sense dictates that if polluters know they have more than a 90% chance of breaking the law without being charged, they will continue to do so," said Sierra Legal Project Scientist Kim Mandzy. "The MOE should initiate more prosecutions, especially against those facilities with long records of offending years and large numbers of violations."

Polluter's Haven also identifies irregularities in the MOE's lists of polluters published on their website. Using data obtained through Freedom of Information requests, the report reveals that in 1999 the MOE listed 4 facilities within the Lake Ontario basin as having air discharges in non-compliance with provincial air pollution laws. The MOE collects additional information on facilities with air violations that it chooses not to disclose on its website. Sierra Legal's research shows that 95 facilities were actually in violation.

"We found that the MOE website was very misleading and under-reported the actual number of facilities with air violations," said Mandzy. "The MOE should increase its transparency by providing the public with a complete set of information on both air and water violators."

The report argues that the province should not only list facilities and parameters violated, but also the number of violations, charges and convictions.

The report also identifies known toxic chemicals including benzene, asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), iron, lead and zinc that were still being emitted at levels violating the legal limit, despite continued government commitments of elimination. The report recommends that facilities with violations of persistent toxic substances should be a priority for prosecution.

The report and a media backgrounder are available online at www.sierralegal.org .

 

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