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Toxic report card for business proposed - The Star

January 7, 2008
Peter Gorrie Environment Columnist

Toronto would become a North American leader if it adopts a plan, unveiled today, that would force businesses to reveal how much toxic material they use and release into the environment.

The proposal, from the city's Medical Officer of Health, David McKeown, would require annual reports from about 9,600 dry cleaners, auto body shops, printers and others that use any of the 25 chemicals considered most likely to cause cancer, respiratory ailments and other health problems.

For the most dangerous, such as lead and mercury, the law would apply if a company handles as little as 10 kilograms a year.

The information would be publicly available on the Internet.

"We're really pleased. We're very excited about it," said Lina Cino of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, a leading advocate of a "community right to know" bylaw. "It's completely in the right direction."

The Liberal government last year rebuffed a proposal by New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth) for a province-wide law. City council has endorsed the idea in principle.

"In an era of massive chemical use and exposure, the city has taken the lead and is on the verge of a significant breakthrough," Cino said.

Supporters argue that city residents now are denied information on a cocktail of toxic chemicals that get into the air and water through spills or legal discharges. The Ontario Medical Association says bad air causes 1,700 premature deaths in Toronto each year.

Only the roughly 300 largest sources must report under the federal National Pollutant Release Inventory.

The proposal is open for comments for 30 days. Toronto Public Health plans to submit a final proposal to the Board of Health in May. If the board approves, the plan would be made into a bylaw that goes to city council.

"It would be a first for Canada," and among the toughest legislation in North America, said Monica Campbell, who heads public health's environmental protection office. "It's a really strong and sound strategy that makes sense for the city."

No decision on penalties, enforcement, timing and costs would be made until the board approves the proposal, Campbell said.

The law would not apply to homes, construction sites, vehicles, hotels, restaurants or several other types of business. It also wouldn't apply to chemicals dumped into sewers - already covered by a bylaw - or to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Those might come later but, for now, "it's a sense of walk before you run," Campbell said.


2008-01-07 The report card for business proposed (The Star).pdf103.75 KB