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We need a law to track down major polluters

Toronto Sun


Toxic air harms my daughter. Like every parent, I have a right to know who is polluting the air my daughter breathes.

Toxic air also harms my city. I believe Torontonians have a right to know who is polluting our air so that we can start cleaning it up.

The importance of this right to know really sank in a few weeks ago.

It was late spring. I was in the backyard of my house in west-end Toronto with my daughter and partner. We were raking leaves and getting the garden ready for planting. Out of nowhere came this terrible smell. I knew right away it was some sort of chemical and was not good for my daughter.

Two minutes later she was inside, upset at me for sending her in so quickly. And I was upset because I had no idea where this toxic smell was coming from.

I wish this was an isolated incident. But I know from my job that it's not. We get similar stories like this a few times a week at the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Residents from across Toronto call to say there is a toxic smell in their neighbourhood, hoping we can help identify where it's coming from and hoping we can help stop it.

Unfortunately, we can rarely help. That's because our governments have not given us the right to know who is polluting our air.

To be fair, the federal government has laws in place that mandate large companies to publicly report on their use and release of highly toxic substances. This information is collected through the National Pollution Registry Inventory. Pollution Watch (www.pollutionwatch.org) helps citizens track what big companies are polluting and where.

But these federal laws only tell us about 3% of the toxic releases in Toronto. Shockingly, the other 97% of toxic releases go unreported! While we don't know who is polluting, we do know how much pollution is going unreported.

Every year about 7,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals are released into Toronto's air, land and water by an estimated 11,000 polluters. Part of this toxic mix includes at least nine high-risk cancer-causing chemicals that are in our air at unhealthy levels.

We need a law that ensures these polluters publicly report their use and release of key known toxic substances.

Armed with this information, Torontonians can then work with local polluters to clean up.

Fortunately, laws like this exist in the U.S. and we know they work. They're called Community Right to Know (CRTK) laws and have been key to cleaning up neighbourhoods and helping polluting businesses become green businesses.

Thankfully, the City of Toronto is poised to adopt such a law. In early July, the Toronto Board of Health released a draft CRTK bylaw that will require annual reporting by polluters using and releasing 25 toxic substances that are in Toronto's air at unhealthy levels.

Reported information will be available to the public through a user-friendly data-base, allowing searches by neighbourhood, facility and releases.

In October, Toronto City Council will have the chance to adopt the draft bylaw.

Until then, Torontonians have few options available to find out who is polluting in their neighbourhood. One is www.secrecyistoxic.ca, a community-generated website that lists a small number of the possible polluters in neighbourhoods across Toronto.

Overwhelming support

I'm confident our elected politicians at City Hall will do the right thing and give the community the right to know who is polluting in the fall. That's because I've seen the overwhelming public support for this right and I believe councillors will do what's best for their city.

To add your voice to this support -- and to help ensure my daughter stays healthy -- e-mail or pick up the phone and call your local councillor and the mayor. Let them know you have the right to know who is polluting in your neighbourhood.

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