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Council approves toxic chemicals bylaw

As published in the Toronto Star: http://www.healthzone.ca/health/article/548136

'Right-to-know' rule will force 7,000 businesses to disclose their emissions of 25 listed substances

December 4, 2008
Vanessa Lu

Toronto council has overwhelmingly endorsed a sweeping new bylaw requiring small and medium businesses to disclose annually their emissions of 25 toxic substances.

The "right-to-know" bylaw, approved yesterday by a 33-to-3 vote, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2010. It will be phased in over several years to give facilities time to understand the bylaw and find ways to track and reduce their emissions.

The collected data will be put on the Internet, where residents will be able to search for the presence of pollutants in their neighbourhoods.

Mayor David Miller promoted the bylaw, arguing residents should know about what chemicals are being emitted.

"We have an absolute right to regulate here, and it's necessary," he said.

Toronto's bylaw is more stringent than current federal rules and proposed provincial legislation. Federal rules require reporting only by companies that spew large amounts of chemicals. Toronto's bylaw will affect about 7,000 small- and medium-sized businesses. Failure to report would be met with fines starting at $5,000 for the first offence and $25,000 for the second.

A proposal to delay enforcement until 2013 was rejected, despite a plea from Councillor Peter Milczyn to ensure the program is working before bringing in "the heavy hand of enforcement."

The bylaw would apply to companies such as food and beverage manufacturers, printing and publishing companies, auto body repair shops, dry cleaning plants and funeral parlours. Gas stations would not be included because they are exempt federally.

Among the 25 designated substances are benzene, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, vinyl chloride and volatile organic compounds.

Paul Scrivener, spokesperson for the Toronto Industry Network, said the new bylaw will require extra costs to collect the needed data.

"We'll muddle through somehow," he said, adding many businesses already disclose chemical use under other regulations.

Councillor Adam Vaughan made an impassioned plea for the bylaw, pointing out that his late mother worked in a laboratory that did radioactive testing during World War II.

"We still don't know to this day whether that laboratory had an impact on my mother's health," he said. "But I can tell you, as you sit in the room with a woman who's dying of cancer, you wonder what gave this to her and you'd sure as hell like to know what the information is.

"You'd like to know not because you can necessarily turn back the clock and fix the situation, or cure your mother's cancer – you just want to know."

- With files from Paul Moloney

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