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Toronto Star Editorial: For a healthier Toronto

As published in the Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/537446

Nov 16, 2008 04:30 AM

With only 3 per cent of polluters required to report their emissions, tracking the origin of most airborne toxins in Toronto is a hopeless enterprise. This is troubling, because when people don't know what they're breathing, it's only natural that they worry about the health effects of the local atmosphere. And when governments have no idea how much toxic material a company might be spewing, it's difficult to push that business into cutting back.

The solution, on both counts, is greater public disclosure. And that is precisely what the city's medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, aims to provide through a new "right to know" bylaw. The measure goes to the board of health on Monday and, if it wins passage, to city council next month.

There is much to be said for this bylaw. It would require small and medium-sized businesses to report their use of 25 toxic substances listed by the city as being especially worrisome. Average airborne discharges can be calculated from that usage. And once these data are posted online, the findings would give residents some idea of what's entering the atmosphere.

Existing tracking systems don't go nearly far enough. The federal National Pollutant Release Inventory is geared toward big operations and only covers about 350 facilities in Toronto. The province is also working on a toxics-reduction strategy, but that, too, would be focused on large industries. In contrast, between 5,000 and 7,000 Toronto businesses would by covered by the city's new bylaw.

These would include operations such as autobody shops, printers, dry cleaners and medical diagnostic labs. As well as keeping neighbours informed about toxics used in such places, city officials would be able to use information gleaned through the bylaw to advise businesses about cleaner, greener alternatives to some of their chemicals. In-deed, simply having more light shed on their usage would probably push many operations to keep their use of toxics to a minimum.

The result should be better air quality in Canada's largest city and a cleaner, healthier Toronto.

Editorial - For a Healthier Toronto - Novem 16 2008.pdf26.29 KB