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Great Lakes Article:

Province overhauls hazardous waste policy
Article courtesy of the Star
December 18, 2001

Ontario plans to destroy all dangerous PCBs in storage within three years, shut its hospital bio-waste incinerators and make hazardous-material producers pay to keep track of the toxins they produce.

In unveiling the first major overhaul of the rules dealing with hazardous waste in Ontario in 15 years, Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer said today the changes will vault the province into the vanguard of environmental protection.

"Our policies have suffered from nearly two decades of inactivity," Witmer said.

"This is the most far-reaching and multi-faceted action plan on hazardous waste in years."

A key component of the strategy includes a plan to destroy the 99,000 tonnes of carcinogenic PCBs in storage within three years.

Hospitals and schools will have one year to get rid of theirs.

Keith West, an official at the Environment Ministry, said high-level PCBs will be sent to Swan Hills, Alta., while the province has top-notch technology to destroy safely the rest of the stocks of electrical coolant.

Witmer also said that it makes sense to close the province's 44 hospital incinerators and have hazardous bio-waste from body parts to blood disposed of properly in specialized facilities.

"Hospitals are one of the largest sources of (carcinogenic) dioxin emissions in Canada," said Witmer.

The decision will also reduce mercury emissions from hospital waste by 90 per cent, said the ministry's John Mayes.

Most of the hospital waste incineration will likely take place at a new facility in Brampton, northwest of Toronto.

Critics have long complained the province lacks proper tracking and disposal procedures for the 10,000 tonnes of such wastes produced annually which can contain dangerous pathogens and spread disease.

A new online database for tracking all hazardous waste in the province is expected to be up and running by February the first such system in North America.

"We need to know that the companies who generate, who transport and dispose of this hazardous waste are held to the very highest standards," said Witmer.

To help pay for the database, the province is planning to levy new user fees on those who produce hazardous waste which are expected to generate $12 million.

However, no new staff or money will be added to the Environment Ministry, which the Tory government slashed almost in half in the mid-1990s.

Witmer said the province has since added more staff, including its new environmental `SWAT team,' and that enforcement, prosecutions and fines are on the rise.

The regulations will also include a new definition for hazardous waste that takes in everything from household cleaners, used motor oil, to chemicals used in dry cleaning and during manufacturing.

Earlier this fall, Environment Commissioner Gord Miller warned that the province had increasingly become a dumping ground for hazardous waste for American companies looking for cheap disposal.

West said the plan is "very clearly" to reduce the amount of imported waste.

Witmer said the province is in the process of setting tough standards for pre-treatment of hazardous waste that will meet or exceed U.S. standards, and will put in place specific reduction targets for all wastes.
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