August 16, 2002
request investigation of toxic discharges from Ontario Power G eneration's
OPG's release of more than 2,000
kilograms of mercury may violate water protection laws
TORONTO -Sierra Legal Defence Fund
today formally asked the province to investigate Ontario
Power Generation Inc. (OPG) for alleged contraventions
of federal and provincial pollution laws by emitting
more than 2,000 kilograms of mercury from their five
coal-fired plants since 1999.
The application, on behalf of the Sierra
Club of Canada, was made under the Environmental
Bill of Rights. The groups provide evidence that
provincially owned OPG's mercury emissions to the air
are reaching Ontario's lakes, thereby contravening the
Ontario Water Resources Act and the federal
Fisheries Act. In the year 2000, OPG was responsible
for a full one third of all air releases of mercury
"We know mercury is toxic", said Sierra
Legal lawyer Albert Koehl, a former prosecutor with
the Ontario Ministry of Environment. "We know OPG emits
large amounts of mercury. And we know that fish in our
lakes are contaminated with it. Now we are asking the
Ministry of Environment to see if it can connect the
March 2001 Ministry of Environment report itself said
that the mercury emitted from the Lakeview plant on
Lake Ontario in Mississauga was likely to be deposited
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that bioaccumulates
in the food chain and has become the subject of growing
public health concern. Scientific studies say that even
low levels of exposure can cause neurological and developmental
impairment in the foetus and young children. Ontario's
own sport fish guide warns that "Women of child-bearing
age, including pregnant women and nursing mothers can,
through a diet elevated in contaminants such as mercury
and PCBs, affect the health of their offspring." First
Nations communities who rely on fish as a routine part
of their diet are particularly at risk.
Mercury exists as a trace element in coal
and when coal is burned, mercury is emitted from smokestacks
into the air. Mercury may then be deposited into lakes
both locally and further away. Microorganisms and natural
processes in water bodies convert mercury into methylmercury.
Fish rapidly absorb methylmercury but eliminate it slowly,
resulting in the gradual build-up of this toxic substance
in their bodies. Fish consumption is therefore a primary
exposure route for humans.
"Mercury contamination is a serious problem
in Ontario's lakes and waterways," said Dan McDermott
of Sierra Club of Canada. "OPG should be held accountable
for the damage caused by continually releasing massive
amounts of toxic chemicals like mercury into our environment."
According to a media release which appears
on OPG's own website, "one gram [of mercury] can contaminate
a 20-acre lake for one year to the point where fish
should not be eaten." The Nanticoke plant, located on
the north shore of Lake Erie, was alone responsible
for 226 kilograms of mercury emissions in 2001.
OPG releases mercury from five coal-fired
plants: the Nanticoke, Lambton, Lakeview, Atikokan and
Thunder Bay Generating Stations. The sale of the last
two plants has been announced, but this would not absolve
the company of liability for discharges prior to the
media backgrounder is available online at www.sierralegal.org.
For further information please contact:
Albert Koehl, Lawyer
368-7533 ext 26
of Canada, Eastern Canada Chapter:
Sierra Legal is a national non-profit organization
dedicated to environmental justice. The Sierra Club
of Canada raises public awareness about and advocates
for the need for protection and restoration of the environment.
They are separate organizations.