Thurs., July 27, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Report: Canada needs to work harder to cut toxic pollution


OTTAWA - Canada has continued to lag behind the United States in cutting toxic pollution, according to new data from the NAFTA Commission for Environmental Co-operation.

Close to three million tonnes of toxic chemicals were produced as waste by North American industry in 2003, with roughly a quarter of that amount released directly to the air, says the Taking Stock report.

Almost 11 per cent of toxic chemicals released in 2003 were known or suspected carcinogens, while eight per cent cause birth defects, developmental or reproductive harm. Still others contribute to smog, acid rain, haze and nutrient overloading of water bodies (eutrophication).

U.S. manufacturing facilities cut their releases of toxics by 21 per cent between 1998 and 2003, while Canadian manufacturers cut releases by 10 per cent.

"The U.S. is doing a better job, I think this is fairly consistent," William Kennedy, executive director of the commission, said in an interview Wednesday. "The total number of chemical releases continues to come down . . . but there's still areas of concern and primarily it's in terms of what's being emitted.

"The cocktail includes the smog-producing chemicals, but you've also got the carcinogens like lead and benzene, developmental toxins like mercury and lead, which are particularly worrisome because of their effects on children's health and their I.Q."

Kennedy said U.S. pollution is generally subject to greater regulation while Canada relies more on voluntary actions by industry. "You have greater reductions when that control is there than when you don't."

No comment could be obtained from Environment Minister Rona Ambrose.

Ontario reported the second-highest total production of toxic waste among states and provinces, after Texas. But the province ranked first in the amount of toxic material transferred for recycling, which improved its standing to fifth in terms of releases to the environment.

British Columbia reported the third-highest increase in toxic pollution between 1998 and 2003, with a 130 per cent increase in total releases and transfers, to a total of 9,600 tonnes. This was blamed partly on improved estimates and increased production at three B.C. pulp mills.

Quebec reported the fourth-highest increase - 18 per cent - including 5,400 tonnes in releases to the environment. A single hazardous waste facility in Quebec reported an increase in total releases of 3,300 tonnes.

The report includes a devastating study of the cement industry, examining the use of cement kilns to burn shredded tires, waste oils, sewage sludges, printing inks, paint residues and solvents.

The study found that kilns account for a vast range of chemicals, including 90 per cent of releases of mercury from industrial facilities in the United States and Canada. Mercury is an indestructible toxin that has been shown to affect fetal development and intelligence.

Total air releases of mercury from Canadian cement kilns increased 52 per cent from 2000 to 2003, says the report. The kilns also release dioxins, smog precursors. The biggest contributor was Lehigh Inland Cement in Edmonton.

The CEC report notes a puzzling discrepancy: toxic releases from U.S. cement kilns have risen sharply in recent years, while releases from Canadian kilns have fallen. There is some concern that Canadian cement facilities are under-reporting their pollution.