Two City Councillors have recently taken the lead to protect our water and take a stand against pollution in our sewer system. TEA has played a key role in getting these issues on the agenda, working directly with these Councillors to bring the matter forward at City Hall. Read on to learn about our two latest wins to reduce water pollution in Toronto.
Chemical review to identify new toxins in our sewers
Today, TEA and Councillor Robinson unanimously won a motion at Public Works and Infrastructure Committee that will prompt a review of chemicals of concern to the Great Lakes and our water system. Led by Toronto Water, this long overdue review can strengthen our city’s Sewers By-law by adding more chemicals to the list of regulated pollutants.
In the last municipal election, TEA called for this chemical review in our Green Action Agenda and it gained the support of Councillor Robinson and Mayor Tory. Currently the Sewers By-law only regulates 39 chemicals for pollution prevention while dozens of new chemicals of concern have been found to pose risks to our Great Lakes. Since this chemical list hasn’t been reviewed for 16 years, Councillor Robinson’s request shows environmental leadership to reduce toxic chemicals and protect Lake Ontario.
Holding companies accountable for toxics reduction
The other exciting news is that back in December, TEA and Councillor Layton won a motion at City Council to ensure that the companies who release chemicals into our sewer system continue to have a duty to reduce their pollution impacts.
While not everyone on Council agreed (see vote record below), Layton's request puts a halt on Toronto Water’s original plan to arbitrarily reduce the number of companies who are currently required to write Pollution Prevention Plans. If their proposed new 25% cut off* had passed, some Toronto companies that release chemicals in amounts that can impact our sewer system and Lake Ontario would no longer be required to develop a plan to reduce or prevent that pollution in the coming years. Instead of an arbitrary 25% cut off to decide who needs to prevent pollution and who doesn't, the cut off should be based on the known risks and impacts of releasing chemicals into our sewer system. The alternative ‘risk based approach’ proposed by Councillor Layton and TEA would ensure that pollution prevention planning is informed by evidence rather than convenience.
Toronto Water will be reporting back to Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and City Council on these two important water pollution decisions in 2016-2017. TEA will be following this issue closely to ensure these wins actually lead to lasting change in policy that protects our environment.
*Confused about the technical lingo? Here's a simple example to explain these 'cut offs': Company X releases 0.25 mg/L of mercury and since the by-law allows them to release up to 1 mg/L** they are ‘in compliance’ with Toronto’s water pollution rules. However, mercury is toxic and persistent in the environment so the by-law demands that Company X develop a plan to reduce or eliminate their mercury pollution in the coming years. A 25% cut off would mean that Company X no longer needs to develop a plan to reduce their impact on the environment while a risk based model might set a 0% or 15% cut off, which would mean Company X still has a duty to reduce their pollution impact.
** Please note: Actually Toronto's Sewers By-Law (pg. 13) only allows mercury releases up to 0.01 mg/L. We used 1 mg/L in the above example to simplify the concept for our readers.