Media Release

CELA Decries Off-Shore Wind Moratorium

Alleged Precautionary Response Should be Towards Existing and Serious Drinking Water Risks from Nuclear and Chemical Contamination

Feb 14 2011

Toronto: The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) today strongly criticized the provincial government’s Friday decision to impose a moratorium on processing applications for off-shore wind power. In particular, CELA is critical of the reported rationale for the moratorium. The Minister of the Environment, John Wilkinson, has stated in media interviews today and over the past weekend, that the reason for the moratorium is due to “lack of science”, and in particular, he cites a concern about the safety of the drinking water of millions of people in the Great Lakes. He states that given that lack of science, the government is acting in a “precautionary” manner.

CELA is of the view that this is not an appropriate application of the precautionary principle. That principle is about taking action when incomplete but credible evidence points to the potential for serious or irreversible harm to the environment (and human health). “Applying precaution is not about responding to a 'lack of science' but about taking action in the face of uncertain but deeply troubling scientific information,” stated Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director and Counsel with CELA.

CELA is not aware of any serious or credible evidence of risks to drinking water from off-shore wind turbines. In contrast, for credible scientific information about risks to drinking water in the Great Lakes, the Minister can heed the warnings and recommendations of many credible investigations into existing hazards that merit the application of the precautionary principle and action to reduce those risks:

• Ontario’s nuclear power plants routinely release tritium, a radioactive carcinogen, to Lake Ontario and Lake Huron. The Minister’s own Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Committee, which was set up after the Walkerton tragedy, has advised him to lower the tritium drinking water standard from the currently absurd level of 7,000 bq/L to 20 bq/L; a number which the nuclear power industry has stated it can meet. However, no action has been taken by the government to date, despite repeated requests from CELA and others to do so.(i)

• 32 million kg of toxic chemicals were released to the air in 2007 by NPRI facilities in SPAs. Total air releases of chemicals considered known or suspected carcinogens in 2007 from NPRI facilities in SPAs was approximately 1.5 million kg. Much of this is deposited in the Great Lakes. CELA and others released a 2009 report, Protecting the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin and Drinking Water Sources.(ii)

• The greatest amounts of contaminants to the Great Lakes come from stormwater flows across industrial, commercial, and agricultural lands, flushing massive amounts of pathogens, chemical contaminants, and turbidity into the lakes, impacting both the quality of the source water, and the ability to treat it.(iii)

• The water treatment plants are not designed to deal with new and emerging threats such as endocrine disrupting substances which find their way into the Great Lakes by way of our sewer system – coming from the pharmaceuticals and many of the personal care products that we use in our homes. CELA and others have drawn these issues to the government’s attention, calling for a focus on reducing these contaminants from getting into our natural environment and drinking water, and to improve treatment for these contaminants. Some research has been undertaken by some local, provincial and federal governments, but no comprehensive approach to this problem is in place.(iv)

CELA and others have been calling on the government to establish the Great Lakes Drinking Water Advisory Committee provided for in the legislation covering drinking water source protection – the Clean Water Act. That legislation provides for such a committee to establish Great Lakes drinking water targets. To date the government has not moved ahead with this advisory committee.

Renewable power has an essential place in a sustainable energy future; in addition to strong conservation and use of transitional fuels. CELA disputes the rationale that has been publicized for this moratorium decision – it is not credible to argue that it is for protection of drinking water. CELA also regrets that this approach has diminished the precautionary principle, by its inappropriate application.

CELA lawyers were counsel to the Concerned Walkerton Citizens; and have provided extensive input to the government on development of drinking water source protection in Ontario. CELA is also a member of the Renewables is Doable Coalition and co-author of various reports outlining the technical feasibility of a sustainable energy future for Ontario.

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For more information, please contact: Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director and Counsel 416-960-2284 ext. 219
Richard Lindgren, Senior Counsel 416-960-2284 ext. 214


i.(See the ODWAC report at http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/07/02/water-chemicals.html).
ii.It is focused on Ontario data for the drinking water Source Protection Areas and Regions (see http://www.cela.ca/publications/protecting-great-lakes-st-lawrence-river-basin-and-drinking-water-sources. Calling on the Ontario government to take a much more robust approach to drinking water source protection by including these sources in the assessments of risks to drinking water.
iii.(See for example the U.S. Great Lakes Report on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement at http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/glwqa/usreport/part4.html).
iv.(See for example the CBC report on the topic of emerging threats from everyday chemicals at http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/07/02/water-chemicals.html).