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Great Lakes Article:

SIERRA LEGAL DEFENCE FUND
MEDIA RELEASE

August 16, 2002

Groups request investigation of toxic discharges from Ontario Power G eneration's coal-fired plants  
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 in Ontario.

"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 dots."

A 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 locally.

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 sale.

A media backgrounder is available online at www.sierralegal.org.

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For further information please contact:

Sierra Legal Defence Fund:                         Albert Koehl, Lawyer                         (416) 368-7533 ext 26
Sierra Club of Canada, Eastern Canada Chapter:                         Dan McDermott                        (416) 960-6075

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.

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